Myths about bedbugs and DDT

Brent Herbert debunks some myths about bedbugs and DDT:

Since I discovered that I have bed bugs I have been touring around the internet doing research right from day one and what I have discovered is that the media is doing a terrible job of covering the bed bug story, and as a result many of the bed bug blogs I have read are full of misinformation which echoes this bad reporting in the media. One of the most common themes in the media stories you will read if you do a search for news articles on bed bugs is that we have bed bugs because DDT was banned, thus forcing us to use ‘weak chemicals’ against bed bugs. This is false. Bed bugs developed resistance to DDT in the 1940s and Rachel Carson did not write Silent Spring until the 1960s, and by this time DDT resistance among bed bugs was so widespread that DDT was no longer the chemical of choice for treating bed bugs. The chemicals that replaced DDT were not ‘weaker’ chemicals forced upon the country by environmental extremists. The proof of this fact is that it took bed bugs that latter half of the twentieth century to develop resistance to these toxic chemicals, with the end result being that entire generations of people, such as myself, have lived their entire lives to this point in time without even thinking about a bed bug. The chemicals have not changed, and they remain as toxic as they ever were, only the bed bug has changed.

Comments

  1. #1 J F Beck
    December 18, 2006

    Amateur entomologist Brent Herbert wrote: “Bed bugs developed resistance to DDT in the 1940s…”

    This pretty hard to believe. DDT wasn’t widely available to the public until after World War II, with the government’s house spraying program starting in July 1947. So, according to Herbert bed bugs showed signs of resistance within 2 1/2 years but other insecticides remained effective for the best part of half a century.

    Brent Herbert also wrote: “The chemicals have not changed, and they remain as toxic as they ever were, only the bed bug has changed.”

    This is so obviously stupid it doesn’t deserve comment.

    Great source you’ve chosen here.

  2. #2 Tim Lambert
    December 18, 2006

    See:

    Johnson, M. S. and Hill, A. J. (1948). Partial resistance of a strain of bed bugs to DDT residuals. Med. News Letter., 12, 26-28

  3. #3 JB
    December 18, 2006

    JF BEck: “DDT wasn’t widely available to the public until after World War II, with the government’s house spraying program starting in July 1947. So, according to Herbert bed bugs showed signs of resistance within 2 1/2 years”

    The second sentence is untrue and certainly does not follow from the first sentence.

    According to US EPA

    “Its [DDT's] effectiveness as an insecticide, however, was only discovered in 1939. Shortly thereafter, particularly during World War II, the U.S. began producing large quantities of DDT for control of vector-borne diseases such as typhus and malaria abroad. After 1945, agricultural and commercial usage of DDT became widespread in the U.S.”

    http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/ddt/02.htm

    DDT was also used to dust soldiers and civilians during WWII specifically targeting bedbugs and lice.

    There was therfore plenty of opportunity for bedbugs to develop resistance.

  4. #4 elspi
    December 18, 2006

    You can see now why the Trolls generally try to go “off topic”
    After all, how many assholes does JF BEck really need?

    But as long as we are piling on,

    >”The chemicals have not changed, and they remain as toxic as they ever were, only the bed bug has changed.”

    >This is so obviously stupid it doesn’t deserve comment.

    Isn’t that last sentence self-referential?

  5. #5 J F Beck
    December 18, 2006

    If I understand the resistance mechanism correctly, bed bugs did not develop DDT resistance in the 1940s. Rather, some bed bugs were naturally DDT resistant (to some degree) at the time it was introduced. Thus, on face value, Herbert’s observation about 1940s DDT resistance is meaningless.

    Herbert is clearly making the point that DDT resistant bed bugs were already a problem in the 1940s. This could well be true but I find it hard to believe. (Perhaps Mr Lambert will access the reference he cited and enlighten us.)

    JB wrote: “DDT was also used to dust soldiers and civilians during WWII specifically targeting bedbugs and lice.”

    It makes sense to dust people for body lice because the lice live on the body and in clothing. Bed bugs don’t live on the body or even necessarily close by. Are you sure people were dusted for bed bugs?

    Elspi, if DDT formerly killed bed bugs but no longer does, it isn’t as toxic to bed bugs as it once was. Herbert is anti-insecticide and threw that in to remind his readers that all insecticides, and in particular DDT, are poisonous. In reality, DDT is safe for in-home use.

    Herbert is, by the way, attempting to eradicate his bed bug infestation without using insecticides. This will prompt his bed bugs to go walk-about in search of a meal and could well cause bed bugs to spread to his neighbours (he says he lives in a high-rise). If this happens he’ll be responsible for a mini-explosion of the idiot resistant bed bug population. His neighbours could well lynch him. If so, consider it natural selection.

  6. #6 Aakash
    December 19, 2006

    Indymedia… Now there’s a reliable, reputable source!

  7. #7 elspi
    December 19, 2006

    Troll said: “if DDT formerly killed bed bugs but no longer does, it isn’t as toxic to bed bugs as it once was. ”

    So, if some species developed resistance to a venom, then you would claim that the venom is less toxic. Honest people would say the species has changed.

    Troll: “In reality, DDT is safe for in-home use.”

    Indeed it is.
    (thank you god)
    Your whole family should gargle with it twice a day.

  8. #8 Mark
    December 19, 2006

    “If I understand the resistance mechanism correctly, bed bugs did not develop DDT resistance in the 1940s. Rather, some bed bugs were naturally DDT resistant …”

    Well, yes. I think that is, indeed, the way a resistant strain of bedbug would have spread so as to become the dominant strain of bedbug. That’s the way bacteria develop large populations that are resistance to antibiotics. So what?

  9. #9 Ian Gould
    December 19, 2006

    “If I understand the resistance mechanism correctly, bed bugs did not develop DDT resistance in the 1940s.”

    Darwin superceded Lamarck quite some time ago, JF.

  10. #10 Eli Rabett
    December 19, 2006

    Having recently gone through a bout of this (inspect your hotel room carefully, you are only as safe as the last person to occupy the room was) and at some expense, our conclussion was that there are some useful insecticides, you need a professional to do the job, and small stuff should be thrown into the freezer for a week or more or less. Authorities vary on the necessary time, your choice depends on your level of paranoia, or, more to the point, that of your loved ones. With travel increasing the bugs are coming out at night everywhere. It occurs to me that a good business might be a large freezer, where folk could send their stuffed furniture and beds for a vacation.

  11. #11 J F Beck
    December 19, 2006

    Elspi, calling a fellow commenter a troll is itself a form of trolling.

    Mr Lambert has linked to a very iffy source here; anyone care to state exactly which myths Indymedia poster Herbert debunks? Myth debunking is, after all, what this post is about.

  12. #12 JB
    December 19, 2006

    JF Beck: “Bed bugs don’t live on the body or even necessarily close by. Are you sure people were dusted for bed bugs?”

    Bed bugs can hitch rides on any clothing, including the clothing people wear.

    http://www.extension.umn.edu/distribution/housingandclothing/M1196.html

    JF beck: “bed bugs did not develop DDT resistance in the 1940s. Rather, some bed bugs were naturally DDT resistant”

    When entomologists refer to the “development of resistance”, they refer to the population as a whole. The population develops resistance through selection, survival and interbreeding of those individuals who possess some resistance. Some indivisuals within the population may possess resistance to begin with, or, if not, it may develop in certain individuals through mutation… at which point the selection mechanism acts to weed out those lacking the resistance.