Federal health officials are warning that the insecticides used to kill bed bugs are proving to be dangerous to humans, as well as the pests the products are designed to target.
This week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a bedbug insecticide report, warning that at least one person has died and 111 have been sickened by exposure to chemicals known as pyrethroids or pyrethrins, or both. The most common factor in the illnesses was excessive use.
The CDC researchers collected data from the Sentinel Event Notification System for Occupational Risks (SENSOR)-Pesticides program and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The Victims came from seven different states including California, Florida, Michigan, New York, Texas and Washington, as well as North Carolina, the location of the one fatality. The illnesses occurred between 2003 and 2010.
In addition to excessive spraying, victims also often failed to wash or change pesticide-treated bedding or often failed to notify others that they had applied pesticide treatment to the area.
Most of the illnesses were of low severity. Victims suffered neurological symptoms including headache and dizziness; respiratory symptoms including upper respiratory tract pain, irritation and dyspnea; and gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting.
Most of the cases occurred in private homes and only 13 of the victims were pest control operators or other workers who applied the pesticides.
The one fatality was an extreme case involving a 65 year old woman in 2010, who suffered from a number of other ailments as well, including kidney failure, a history of heart attack, two coronary stents, type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension and depression who was taking at least 10 medications at the time of exposure. The CDC reports that when she complained of bed bugs, her husband sprayed the base boards, walls and area around the bed with an insecticide and then sprayed the mattress and box springs with a different insecticide; neither of which were actually approved to treat bed bugs. He then used nine cans of “fogger” from yet another insecticide to saturate the home. The couple stayed out for three or four hours and did not air out the home by opening doors and windows as per instructions.
The woman also sprayed a bedbug and flea insecticide to her arms, hair and a directly to sores on her chest. She was found non-responsive two days later and was hospitalized on a ventilator until she died.
Bed bugs are tiny, wingless, reddish-brown insects that subsist off of the blood of humans, other mammals or birds. They are not considered disease carriers and do not make people sick, but their presence can cause anxiety, discomfort and sleeplessness.
Bed bug infestations are increasing nationwide, the CDC reports, and excessive, haphazard use of insecticides is generating resistance across the species.