New research and the implications for mattress encasements

I was introduced to Tyco Brahe’s work in university many years ago. Brahe (born AD 1546), was famous for meticulously documenting the movement of the planets across the heavens. Kepler took these observations and found that a heliocentric world (posited by Copernicus earlier) fit Tycos observations perfectly when elliptical orbits were assumed. Later Galileo’s refinement of the telescope demonstrated that Copernicus (partially) and Kepler were correct and within a few years the scientific community accepted that the earth went around the sun instead of the other way around. I have been fascinated by the immense amount of work and careful observations over several generations required to move the science forward. Every grade school child now knows that the Earth travels around the sun but the effort that went into acquiring that knowledge is truly humbling.


In terms of understanding the bed bug I believe we are still at a stage similar to Brahe’s careful observations. Robert Usinger’s Monograph of Cimicidae (1966) was the first systematic attempt to document the bed bug but his understanding of the bed bug was far from complete. Unfortunately very few attempted to build on Usinger’s work because bed bugs were easily killed with chemicals. Why study something that is irrelevant? Right?


It turned out that the decision to ignore the bed bug has come back to bite us (pun intended) when the chemicals that easily killed bed bugs were banned in 2001 and 2004. Since then resistance to available chemicals has grown tremendously and the research has started again in earnest. Now there is excellent work coming out of the universities the most recent of which is Richard Naylor’s 2012 Phd dissertation entitled “Ecology and the Dispersal of the Bedbug.” It is an excellent read.


Naylor documented experimentally that bed bugs harbour further away (disperse) from the host when nearby harbourage is restricted. Personally I have observed that phenomenon for many years and I suspect many other exterminators have done the same. But Naylor was first to document that phenomenon in the same way that Brahe did his work. This is very important work.


Of course this information has major implications for bed bug control. Current public policy revolves around the use of mattress encasements to prevent bed bugs gaining access to the bed. But if the bugs are not allowed to colonize the bed they harbour (disperse) further from the bed. And this puts surrounding suites in greater danger of infestation. It also ensures the bugs move to surrounding furniture such as dressers, night stands, clothing, back packs and any other object in the vicinity of the bed. The risk of the bugs being transported to work, cars, and other homes is therefore increased.


In the days when effective chemicals were available to control bed bugs the dispersal of bed bugs was less important. But today with increasing resistance it is imperative that we reduce the potential for harm as much as possible. Rethinking of the use of encasements is imperative.


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