Illnesses Linked to Bedbug Insecticides

CDC Says 1 Death, More Than 100 Illnesses Due to Excessive Exposure to Insecticides for Bedbugs

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on September 22, 2011
From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 22, 2011 -- Bedbugs won't kill you, but the poisons used to kill them might. According to a new CDC report, exposure to insecticides used to control bedbugs led to one death and more than 100 illnesses between 2003 and 2010.

The report is published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The report states that the most common causes of illness were due to overuse of insecticides, failure to wash or change bedding that had been treated with insecticide, and failing to adequately warn others that insecticide had been used.

"Excessive use of insecticides or use of insecticides contrary to label directions can raise the potential for human toxicity," the authors write.

The 111 illnesses were reported in seven states: California, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Texas, and Washington. More than half of the illnesses occurred in New York. Nearly three quarters of the cases occurred between 2008 and 2010 and were considered to be of low severity.

The report does note that the number of reported insecticide-related illnesses "does not suggest a large public health burden." But the authors express concern that the problem could escalate if bedbugs are not adequately and properly controlled.

Bedbugs Increasing in Numbers

The number of bedbug infestations is escalating, both in the U.S. and around the world. Among the numerous possible causes for the uptick, the authors write, is increased travel, more cluttered rooms, more "bedbug friendly furnishings" such as wooden bed frames, and, unfortunately, growing resistance to insecticides.

"Increases in bedbug populations that are resistant to commonly available insecticides might result in increased misuse of pesticides," the report states.

According to the report, five states (California, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio, and Virginia) now have bedbug populations that resist pyrethroids, an insecticide widely used to control them. Pyrethroids, along with another type of insecticide, pyrethrins, were implicated in 99 of the illnesses, including the person who died.

Proper Way to Control Bedbugs

The CDC urges people with a bedbug problem to call in certified professionals to help. The CDC also recommends an integrated approach to controlling bedbugs that employs more than poisonous bug spray.

Many of the illnesses, the report states, occurred among people who attempted to de-bug their own houses. The woman who died, a 65-year-old living in North Carolina who was being treated for several chronic illnesses and taking at least 10 different medications, did not follow the insecticide fogger's label. She sprayed an excessive amount of the poison both throughout her house and on herself.

"Persons applying insecticides should follow product instructions for safe and appropriate use," the authors conclude. "Insecticide labels that are easy to read and understand also can help prevent illnesses associated with bed bug control."

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Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Sept. 23, 2011; vol 60: pp 1269-1274.

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