It is currently estimated that one in four U.S. households is occupied by bed bugs, an alarming statistic considering that only a decade or so ago the Bed Bug, Cimex lectularius, was barely on the radar of entomologists. Effective, non-toxic, and affordable treatments have been elusive, but researchers may have a new weapon that targets only bed bugs.
Why Are Bed Bugs So Hard to Eradicate?
Even adult bed bugs are only about the size of an apple seed and are so flat that they can slip into the thinnest of cracks and crevices. This means that traditional contact insecticides cannot reach all the bugs. The cost of repeat visits by pest control companies and of discarding infested furniture, bedding, and other objects adds up quickly. Heat treatment is the most effective but also the most expensive, and it works best in hotel rooms, not entire homes.
How Is the New Bed Bug Treatment Different?
Scientists at Pennsylvania State University have been working on biopesticides for grasshoppers, mosquitoes, and flies for years. Biopesticides are naturally-occurring organisms that are specific to pest insects and harm no other kind of animal, including people. The research team comprises entomologists Nina Jenkins, Matt Thomas, and Ed Rajotte, but it was student Alexis Barbarin who suggested bed bugs as another test subject. The agent in this case is Beauveria bassiana, a fungus that infects only insects. The scientists have dubbed it AprehendTM for marketing purposes.
Fast-Acting & Permanently Effective
Treatment consists of spraying fungal spores where bed bugs are evident and likely to walk through the spores. While attempting to groom itself, the bug spreads the spores, and within 20 hours the spores germinate and infect the insect. The victim bug dies in four to seven days. Moreover, because bed bugs like to squeeze together in tight spaces, they infect each other with spores. The fungal spores are viable for up to three months, so the risk of a new infestation is lowered, too.
Coming to Market Soon?
Developing a new insecticide is only one step. The next is getting it on the market. Thanks to the Invent Penn State initiative, Nina Jenkins and Giovani Bellicanta are doing just that. AprehendTM is on the fast-track for deployment as early as the end of this year. Considering that bed bugs are developing resistance to chemical insecticides, this new and natural weapon is nothing short of a potential miracle.