If it kills bedbugs, it can hurt you, too

Bedbugs don’t make you sick. But the poisons used to kill them can. A U.S. study released Thursday found that dozens of Americans have fallen ill from the insecticides, and a North Carolina woman died after using 18 cans of chemical fogger to attack the tiny blood suckers.

A government study counted one death and 80 illnesses linked to bedbug-targeting insecticides used from 2008 through 2010. Many were do-it-yourselfers who misused the chemicals or used the wrong product. Most of the cases were in New York City

A government study counted one death and 80 illnesses linked to bedbug-targeting insecticides used from 2008 through 2010. Many were do-it-yourselfers who misused the chemicals or used the wrong product. Most of the cases were in New York City

ATLANTA — Bedbugs don’t make you sick. But the poisons used to kill them can.

A U.S. study released Thursday found that dozens of Americans have fallen ill from the insecticides, and a North Carolina woman died after using 18 cans of chemical fogger to attack the tiny blood suckers.

Because many of the cases, including the lone death, were do-it-yourselfers who misused the chemicals or applied the wrong product, federal health officials are warning consumers to be careful and urging them to call professionals.

The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted 80 illnesses and one death linked to the insecticides over three years. Most of the cases were in New York City, the apparent epicenter of a recent U.S. bedbug comeback.

The CDC was relieved to find a relatively small number of cases.

“At this point, it’s not a major public health problem,” said Dr. Geoff Calvert, a CDC investigator who co-authored the study.

Bedbugs are wingless, reddish-brown insects that bite people and animals to draw blood for their meals. Though their bites can cause itching and welts, they are not known to spread disease.

“There’s nothing inherently dangerous about bedbugs,” said Dr. Susi Vassallo, an emergency medicine doctor who works at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital Center and occasionally treats patients who report bedbug problems.

But the insects are a major hassle. In recent national surveys of exterminators, bedbugs were named the toughest pest to get rid of. They can hide for months, only come out at night and can be hard to spot with the naked eye.

They are also creepy, provoking intense fear in the minds of many people unnerved by the threat that an almost invisible insect could emerge at night to drink their blood.

“Sometimes people get hysterical,” said Theresa Braine, a New York City journalist who lived with bedbugs in her apartment for a year and now writes a weekly Internet column about the pests.

The CDC study was the first to look at the dangers of bedbug insecticides. Researchers reviewed reports from California, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, New York, Texas and Washington.

They counted 111 cases from 2003 through 2010. Most occurred in the last few years, when bedbug reports rose across the country. More than half were in New York City.

People suffered headaches, dizziness, breathing problems and nausea and vomiting. More than 80 per cent of the illnesses were considered mild.

The one death was a 65-year-old woman from Rocky Mount, N.C., who had a history of heart trouble and other ailments.

In 2010, she and her husband used nine cans of insecticide fogger one day, then the same amount two days later, without opening doors and windows to air out their home afterward. She also covered her body and hair with another bedbug product, and covered her hair with a plastic shower cap.

Two other illnesses were carpet cleaners who had not been told the apartment had recently been treated with pesticides. Two more were emergency medical technicians who responded to a scene and were exposed to a white powder believed to be a pesticide.

CDC officials said they could not be absolutely certain that the insecticides caused every problem. For example, there was no record of an autopsy on the North Carolina woman. It’s possible that some of the illnesses were coincidental to the insecticide exposure.

But it’s also likely these kinds of illnesses are under-reported, Calvert said.

About 90 per cent of the cases were linked to pyrethroids or pyrethrins, insecticides commonly used against bedbugs. Such products are not a health risk to most people but should still be applied by a trained exterminator, said Vassallo, who is also a toxicologist and a clinical associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center.

But in some cases, an improper and more dangerous product was used. That happened in 2010 in Ohio, where an uncertified exterminator used malathion to rid an apartment of bedbugs, even though the chemical is never supposed to be used indoors. A couple and their 6-year-old child got sick.

CDC officials suggested people trying to rid their homes of bedbugs should first thoroughly vacuum all floors and furniture and wash linens.

If it doesn’t work, call an exterminator to apply the chemicals, and then carefully follow their directions about re-entering the room and airing it out, they said.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

House sales remain hot in central Alberta with first-quarter sales nearly double last year’s numbers. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Central Alberta real estate market hot in 2021

Residential sales nearly double 2020 in first quarter

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer gave an update on Olymel's COVID-19 situation on Wednesday. (File photo by Advocate staff).
Veer addresses rising COVID-19 cases in Red Deer

Red Deer has added nearly 200 cases of active COVID-19 cases in past week

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Premier Jason Kenney say the province would look at adding additional COVID-19 measures in the coming weeks if the virus continues to spread. (Photo by Government of Alberta)
Walk-in COVID-19 vaccination clinic to open in Red Deer

Alberta adds 1,345 new cases of the virus

Innisfail RCMP are investigating a single-vehicle crash that happened west of Bowden on March 21, 2021. (File photo by Advocate staff)
RCMP investigate culturally insensitive graffiti at Sylvan Lake school

Sylvan Lake RCMP is investigating a vandalism incident. On April 17 around… Continue reading

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2021 file photo State representatives gather at the Capitol, in Phoenix. Two years after Arizona lawmakers repealed a law barring any instruction on HIV or AIDS that that "promotes a homosexual lifestyle," they are close to enacting a broad remake of the state's sex education laws with a particular focus on LGBTQ issues. (AP Photo/Matt York,File)
Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

Arizona governor vetoes strict sex education legislation

People cheer after a guilty verdict was announced at the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin for the 2020 death of George Floyd, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, in Minneapolis, Minn. Former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder and manslaughter in the death of Floyd. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Tears and relief sweep intersection where George Floyd died

Tears and relief sweep intersection where George Floyd died

This photo provided by the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office shows Ruben Flores, 80, who was arrested in connection to the murder of college student Kristin Smart at his Arroyo Grande home on Tuesday, April 12, 2021. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said the arrest warrants for Ruben Flores and his son Paul Flores were issued after a search of the elder Flores' home last month using ground-penetrating radar and cadaver dogs. He said evidence was found linked to the killing of Smart but they had not yet located her body. (San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office via AP)
Document: Kristin Smart once buried in suspect’s backyard

Document: Kristin Smart once buried in suspect’s backyard

In this image from video, defense attorney Eric Nelson, left, and defendant, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin listen to Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill read instructions to the jury before closing arguments, Monday, April 19, 2021, in the trial of Chauvin at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Chauvin is charged in the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. (Court TV via AP, Pool)
Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death

Chauvin guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death

This undated image provided by Matthew Pottage shows drought-tolerant succulents in a window box in London. (Matthew Pottage via AP)
Going beyond the traditional window-box garden

Going beyond the traditional window-box garden

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces march during the Calgary Stampede parade in Calgary, Friday, July 8, 2016. Female service members and veterans are blasting the way Canada's military police investigate allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the ranks.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Female service members blast military police over sexual misconduct investigations

Female service members blast military police over sexual misconduct investigations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is joined virtually by Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland as they talk online to a group of front-line pharmacists from across the country to discuss the ongoing vaccination efforts in the fight against COVID‑19, from the Prime Ministers office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Freeland says Liberals open to provincial child care demands, draws line around fees

Freeland says Liberals open to provincial child care demands, draws line around fees

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, Monday, April 19, 2021. Younger Canadians in several provinces are now able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Trudeau, Freeland seeking AstraZeneca shots as they become age-eligible with others

Trudeau, Freeland seeking AstraZeneca shots as they become age-eligible with others

Most Read