Study finds bed bug pesticides making some people sick

PHOTO: Study finds bed bug pesticides making some people sick

ATLANTA - Bed bugs might make you itch, but the chemicals used to combat the pests are making some people ill.

As more people in the United States are feeling the bed bug's bite, there has been a spike in sickness from pesticides used to kill the insects, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Thursday.

From 2003 to 2010, 111 people were sickened and one died from bed bug insecticide, the government agency reported in a study that is the first of its kind in the country.

Nearly three quarters of the illnesses occurred from 2008 to 2010 as the bed bug population in the United States increased.

Pesticide-related illnesses occurred in seven states: California, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Texas and Washington. Some 81 per cent of cases were not severe.

Densely populated New York City, where there were increasing reports of bed bug infestations, had the largest number of cases at 58 per cent. Nationwide, 93 per cent of the cases were in private homes, the study found.

Although the CDC said there have not been enough cases of serious illness to suggest a large public health burden, the numbers might continue to increase as bed bugs become more resistant to common pesticides.

Bed bugs are wingless, reddish-brown insects that suck blood from humans and other mammals and birds. They do not carry disease but, according to the CDC, "can reduce quality of life by causing anxiety, discomfort and sleeplessness."

Illness can result from misusing pesticides to kill the bugs, the CDC said. Two of the most common causes of illness were excessive insecticide application and failing to wash or change pesticide-treated bedding.

Common symptoms included headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, the CDC said.

The lone fatality was in North Carolina in 2010, and the 65-year-old victim had a long list of health problems including diabetes and renal failure, the CDC said.

Her husband applied pesticides in the home that were not registered for use on bed bugs. The woman also applied a bed bug and flea insecticide to her arms, sores on her chest, and on her hair.

In an Ohio case that resulted in illness, an uncertified pesticide applicator sprayed malathion, which was not registered for indoor use, in an apartment five times over three days.

The CDC recommends using both nonchemical and chemical approaches to fight bed bugs, including hiring an expert to heat infested rooms to 118 degrees Fahrenheit or cool them to 3 degrees for an hour to kill the bugs.

The agency also advises against buying used mattresses and box springs and urges anyone with a bed bug problem to hire only certified insecticide applicators.

"Insecticide labels that are easy to read and understand also can help prevent illnesses associated with bed bug control," the agency said.