Bed Bugs – Insecticide Resistance – Arbovirus Transmission – Zika and Microcephaly

A report published on 28th January 2016 is a major setback to those trying to control the explosive spread of bed bugsNeonicotinoids, the latest group of insecticides used by eradication professionals are proving ineffective due to a dramatic surge in resistance. Other reports imply that bed bugs may transmit Arboviruses. The Zika virus epidemic, recently linked to microcephaly, is an arbovirus.

Cimex lectularius - The Bed Bug As seen Using A Scanning Electron Microscope

Cimex lectularius – The Bed Bug As seen Using A Scanning Electron Microscope

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) have accompanied humans probably since we lived in caves. In fact they have several close relatives that are parasites of bats but will feed off humans who disturb the bat habitats. When humans left their cave environment and started sleeping in bedrooms the bed bugs moved in with them and have been a common inhabitant of most homes until the 1940s.

While you read why not listen to my album ‘Electro Baroque‘ (all tracks are also available on iTunes using the link here)? Classical music using modern instruments:

or if you prefer to listen to my electro/techno album ‘Studio Valiumm‘ here are the videos (also on iTunes using the link here):

More info about my music is at the dedicated website

In the 1940s broad spectrum pesticides like DDT started to be used which together with a greater awareness of public hygiene effectively eradicated bed bugs from the developed world. This separation lasted until 1995 when increasing pesticide resistance and governmental bans of the most effective pesticides led to a resurgence in the spread of these blood sucking animals throughout society.

Persons back after bed bug feeding sessions

Person’s back after bed bug feeding sessions

Although the after-effects of the feeding sessions, as shown in the photo above, can be rather unpleasant – a hundred years of research into bed bugs has not found them to transmit any particularly dangerous human diseases. They feed, usually when a person is sleeping, about once every 5-10 days and then retire to digest the blood and have sex (which sadly can be rather traumatic because their exoskeletons are not really designed for sensuous passion).

An adult can survive many months without a feed (even up-to a year if it is cool)

Male and Female Bed Bugs traumatic insemination

Male and Female Bed Bugs enduring traumatic insemination during sex

Until a few years ago most professional bed bug eradicators used pyrethroid insecticides to try and control the new epidemic.  Then in 2013 a report was published in the journal Nature‘s ‘Scientific Reports’ (link here) which described that the bugs had evolved multiple ways of resisting these insecticides. This, together with increased travel, and population mobility, went a long way to explaining why the expansion in bed bug infestations was booming again. Their resistance was based on a variety of mechanisms like ‘strengthening’ the bug’s exoskeletons, neutralising the chemical effects of the insecticides or making the bugs metabolism less susceptible to these effects.

A new family of insecticides, the neonicotinoids, was introduced to try and combat this rapidly growing bed bug resistance. On January 28th 2016 a report was published in the Journal of Medical Entomology (link here) demonstrating that resistance to these newer insecticides was already so widespread that their application was becoming useless. In fact they may be harmful to nature due to their linkage to the drastic reduction in the bee population. As a result the currently available insecticides will be of little use as the bed bug epidemic spreads.

Bed bug Sniffing Dog

New York Bed Bug Sniffing Dog – Infestations Smell Of Rotting Raspberries

Although life with bed bugs is far from comfortable – years of research has failed to associate them with any nasty pathogens. However much of this research was during the period in which the bed bugs had been effectively eradicated in the developed world. The development of pesticide resistance has demonstrated how quickly they can mutate and evolve. What’s more – the scientific studies focused on diseases like HIV, MRSA and Hepatitus but little serious research had been done in relation to Arboviruses.

Arboviruses are viruses that are transmitted between humans via insect vectors (carriers) like mosquitos. A 2013 report in the scientific journal Plos (‘Bed Bugs and Infectious Disease: A Case for the Arboviruses‘ – link here) pointed out:

“Blood feeding arthropods such as mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, kissing bugs, biting flies, and lice serve as biological vectors for human pathogens. Thus, it seems natural that bed bugs would also transmit infectious agents……Surprisingly, previous attempts to link bed bugs with disease transmission have largely omitted those viral pathogens known to have transmission cycles involving insect vectors.”

We simply do not know the source of the next pandemic

We simply do not know the source of the next pandemic – but of one thing we can be sure – there will be one.

The report describes the close relationship between human bed bugs and similar bugs which are parasites of bats and birds. It also explained how humans collecting guano from caves in Thailand were aggressively fed upon by local bat bugs. These people developed disease symptoms and antibodies to viruses (Kaeng Khoi virus) which are known to be transmitted by the bugs living with the bats (bat bugs).

With regard to any disease that might be transmitted by human bed bugs the authors suggest:

“Human populations most at risk would be those coexisting with long-term bed bug infestations such as those living in refugee camps, homeless shelters, migrant worker camps, or similar situations; particularly those located in proximity to large bat/bird populations. While some dramatic exceptions exist, arbovirus infection typically presents with generic symptoms such as fever, rash, or joint pain. These nonspecific symptoms severely complicate accurate diagnosis, particularly in geographic locations where diseases like malaria and dengue are common.” (and now of course Zika – CD comment

Mosquito (Aedes aegypti) - host of the ZIKA Virus

Mosquito (Aedes aegypti) – host of the ZIKA Virus

I believe the current investigations concerning the Zika outbreak in several countries of the World should also not overlook the bed bug as a potential alternative vector for this disease. Zika’s normal vector is the Aedes mosquito and until the recent explosion in cases of child brain deformities (Microcephaly) this was thought to be a relatively mild illness with only 20% of those infected showing symtoms. The risk of foetal deformities has led to considerable interest in maps of the countries affected and the regions where the Aedes mosquito is present (both maps are in my report on Zika here).

If the human bed bug is found to be capable of transmitting the Zika virus (or any other dangerous arbovirus for that matter) the current explosion in the bed bug population across the world could broaden the geographical potential of such diseases way beyond the areas currently frequented by their mosquito vectors. As we prepare for the next pandemic (and there will surely be more pandemics) we should keep an open mind as to the source of the disease and any vector involved. Even Bubonic Plague may have used the human louse to lie dormant between epidemics in the middle ages (see my report here).

Bubonic Plague 'buboes'

Bubonic Plague ‘buboes’

Diseases like SARS, MERS and HIV/Aids could not easily have been predicted but generally the worst pandemics have been due to viruses from other host animals that have mutated to become deadly to humans. Bed bugs, which have not been around for nearly a century, may turn out to be useful vectors of such microbes.

Time to go and vacuum the bed!

Chris Duggleby

Two bed bugs with eggs living in the dresser

Two bed bugs with eggs living in the dresser

Bed bug Cimex lectularius

Bed bug Cimex lectularius

Chris Duggleby started his scientific career studying Bacteriology, Virology and Immunology at the Manchester University Medical School. From there he went on to spend over 35 in the chemicals and oil industries which included setting up a polymers research and development group in Geneva, Switzerland for a major international chemicals company. Following an MBA from Warwick University he went on to lead a number of international manufacturing and marketing operations in the Chemicals, Plastics and Oil industries. His work involved living and working in Europe, Asia, the USA, the Middle East, and Russia. More recently he was invited to take on a senior leadership position in the Audit Department of the BP International Oil Group. Here he used his global change and risk management experience to help the group reshape its management structures and processes following a major environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. He has now retired to focus on writing about risk management and producing music in his studios near London, in the Alps and Cape Town. If you are interested in risk management check out his or (management of change) sites. He has also recently launched the site.

If you found this article interesting please consider taking a look at some of my other recent reports on similar subjects.

Just click on the titles below:

…starting with some more serious stuff…

19th Jan 2016 ZIKA Virus Epidemic  – Health Warning – Pregnant women should postpone travel to affected areas – Including Brazil 

17th Jan 2016 Bubonic Plague Special – Lice – Hosts for The Black Death Bug

13th Jan 2016 Kill Head Lice In A Day With The Newly Developed Plasma Nitcomb From The German Fraunhofer Institute

8th Jan 2016 Cancer from Handbags, Shoes and Gloves – Allergic Reactions to Jewellery – German Institute Identifies Excessive Chromium 6 and Nickel Levels

13th December 2015 Health Risk – Potential Carcinogens Found in Advent Calendar Chocolates – German Investigation

26th July 2015 Poison in your Washing Machine: Allergic Contact Dermatitis from Laundry Detergents, Softeners, Conditioners and Whiteners

25th October 2015: Health Risks: Food allergy prevention – Latest research ‘feed infants early with allergenic food

17th October 2015: Health Risk: Vitamin and antioxidant supplements help cancer cells become malignant – latest research from Texas

31st May 2015: German Concern about Potentially Carcinogenic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Cosmetics  

11th May 2014: Product Development Risk: New Air Conditioning Coolant Gas Produces Carbonyl Difluoride (Highly Toxic – Related to WW1 Gas Phosgene) in Vehicle Fires

16th April 2014: Ethical Pricing: Same Drug – For Leukaemia 21 Euro (Now Withdrawn) – For Multiple Sclerosis 888 Euro

6th April 2014: Product Quality Risk: Shoes Sold On-line By Zalando Recalled Due To Chromium 6 Contamination – Known Allergen And Carcinogen

29th December 2012: Spreading diarrhea and vomit through the washing machine– The Norovirus propagator in our kitchen

and here are some fun reports…

21st June 2015: Bio-undies: Guilt free Passion with ‘Easy Emma’ and ‘Loose Harry’and Getting Rid of Garden Snails with Rent-a-Duck

4th March 2015: Hamburg Reeperbahn (St. Pauli): Germans install walls that urinate on passers-by

19th April 2014: German Police Catch Hedgehogs Testing Home Made Crash Helmets in Saarbrücken

17th April 2014: Niche On-line Dating Services (Specialities: Herpes, Thrush and Genital Warts)

18th March 2014: Germany and Finland Joint Investigation: New Case of Sexual Cannibalism Including Self-mutilation (Castration) During Intercourse.

18th August 2012: How Bavarians and Austrians use their middle finger – Fingerhakeln: a men-only sport (did Arnold Schwarzenegger start training this way?).

You can also find some of my more humorous reports in the Alpine Press section of this site using the link here.

Now prepare yourself for an uplifting experience! 


Please share your comments on the site. Thanks - Chris

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