Are Bed Bugs Harder to Kill Now More than Ever?

If you’ve had the unfortunate experience of dealing with a bed bug infestation in your home, you know how difficult those buggers are to eradicate for good.

And according to a new study in the Journal of Economic Entomology, the bed bug battle isn’t going to get any easier.

Researchers from Purdue University have learned today’s bed bugs are developing strong resistances to two of the most common insecticides used in pest management.

Bed bugs, who’ve been around since the days of dinosaurs, had already been showing exceptional forbearance to several other insecticides, including the regularly used – and usually effective – deltamethrin. The limited success of the chemical is one of the key factors to the rise of bed bugs over the past decade, particularly in large metropolitans.

Now, they’re rapidly building immunities to deltamethrin’s next best alternatives – bifenthrin and chlorfenapyr.

The Study

Two years ago, the University of Kentucky conducted a survey which found that 68% of pest management professionals consider bed bugs to be the most difficult pest to control.

While they’re wily, small, and harbor in the dark spaces of your home, managing a bed bug infestation is problematic largely due to their insecticide resistances.

The concerns of their growing immunities aren’t new, says lead author of this new study, Ameya Gondhalekar, research assistant professor at Purdue’s Center for Urban and Industrial Pest Management.

“The longer you use any product for the control of a particular pest, the more resistance issues you are going to have,” he says.

For Gondhalekar’s study, his Purdue University research team collected 10 unique bed bug populations from across America – including Indiana, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington, DC – exposing them to different chemicals for a week.

In half of the bed bug groups, the researchers discovered a reduced susceptibility to bifenthrin; over 25% of the bed bugs survived. Three populations displayed reduced susceptibility to chlorfenapyr.

Bifenthrin & Chlorfenapyr

Similar to deltamethrin, bifenthrin is a pyrethroid (an organic compound common in today’s pest control tactics) that targets a bug’s nervous system. Chlorfenapyr is more sci-fi, attacking the mitochondria of cells. The latter is regularly employed by pest control professionals and exterminators, while the former is an over-the-counter product that comes in sprays, granules, and aerosols.

Gondhalekar does note that these two chemicals still have relative effectiveness in combatting some bed bug populations. But, to keep them relatively useful, and not allowing bed bugs to strengthen their immunities, the insecticides must be used cautiously & sparingly.

Pairing bifenthrin or chlorfenapyr with non-chemical pest control techniques, for example, will keep the powerful insecticides relevant for years. They can be coupled with heat, steam, or silica gels, for example.

Utilizing pesticides for pest management, however, is easy and cheap. And it’s that accessibility that’s created overuse of chemicals like bifenthrin and chlorfenapyr, allowing bed bug generations to slowly become impervious to them.

“People from academia have been promoting the use of integrative approaches for years, but the cost of non-chemical methods can be prohibitive,” Gondhalekar explained.

“There is a plethora of research that has shown that if insecticides are integrated with additional control measures such as vacuuming, steam or heat, mattress encasements, traps and desiccant dusts, effective bed-bug control can be accomplished, and theoretically, this should reduce the risk of resistance build-up in populations.”

The Problems with Bed Bugs

While these household pests aren’t really dangerous or life-threatening, bed bug bites cause itching, allergic reactions, and restless nights from anxiety. Large bed bug infestations are extremely difficult to fully eradicate, often leading to additional expenses, stress, and social isolation.

Perhaps the best form of pest control against the little bloodsuckers is prevention. Vacuuming often, springing for an insect-proof mattress casing, and being cautious with your luggage in hotel rooms, all help in keeping your home a bed bug-free space.

“If you’re frequently monitoring for bed bugs, then you won’t have the issue of them multiplying into large numbers,” Gondhalekar says. “It’s much easier to manage the problem early, when it’s just five or 10 bed bugs, rather than hundreds or thousands.”


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