Family-Friendly Ways to Fight Bed Bugs

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On my next regular monthly visit, she was glad that the ordeal was finally over. She still had questions though. She asked, "Where do bed bugs come from and why did they hide in the furniture? I thought they stayed on the mattresses." I explained that the times were changing; new immigrants were moving into the neighborhood and were bringing the bed bugs with them. DDT hasn't been allowed to be used for many years. I also explained that the pest control industry was now moving away from routine baseboard perimeter spraying toward treating only the areas where insects hide and feed. Baits were now being used widely to attract cockroaches and ants to feed on the products and return to their "nest" and share the materials and die. Far less pesticides were being applied and more targeted applications were being done.

Reviewing this encounter, I realized that I could not put my compressed air sprayer away—it would remain a valuable tool regardless of the success of the modern baits for cockroaches and ants. As a matter of fact, I still have the same one with me. I will not let it go.

I would not have to deal with bed bugs again until 2001. Travel and new markets opened up in Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. New immigrants moved into our country at astonishing rates. New York City grew to over eight million people by the 2000 census.

Remember, at the turn of this century very few individuals were studying bed bugs. One individual that has maintained a strain of bed bugs for study since World War II is Dr. Harold J Harlan. I have met him several times through-out the years at seminars sponsored by our regional and national pest management associations. He is a very nice man and willing to impart knowledge to anyone who wishes to listen. I believe it was during a visit to Purdue University's annual pest management conference that Dr. Harlan spoke about the effects of Gentrol IGR on cockroaches. He also mentioned the product may have some chitin-inhibiting qualities (chitin is the main component in the exoskeleton of insects). Gentrol IGR is an insect growth regulator that mimics the juvenile hormone found inside of insects. As long as the hormone is present, the insect can't reach maturity or reproduce. It sterilizes the eggs while the female carries them. This way the egg may be laid but will remain non-viable. Adults don't die from it—they just become sterile. But that aspect wasn't what interested me at the time. I had been dealing with a termite baiting system that was a chitin inhibitor. It disrupted the ability of the termites to complete the molting process. Knowing that bed bugs molt after each blood meal, I thought it may help in breaking their life cycle. Used with another adulticide, it could end bed bug infestations more quickly.

Dr. Harlan happened to have brought some of his bed bugs in a jar and while we were talking a colleague, Patrick Corallo, placed the open jar on his arm to feed them. We wondered if, because Gentrol had chitin inhibiting qualities, it might also be useful against bed bugs. Dr. Harlan soon after received a grant to study the effects of Gentrol IGR on bed bugs. Within a little over a year, the product received an additional labeling for use against bed bugs. I started to incorporate Gentrol along with several other products on any new bed bug jobs I performed.

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