History of Bed Bugs

Dr. Harold Harlan © Armed Forces Pest Management Board (with permission)

To most Americans living today, bed bugs may seem like a new problem and many are not sure if it is a real issue or just media hype. A new survey by the National Pest Management Association indicates that one out of every five Americans has been exposed to bed bugs or knows someone who has.  In NYC, complaints about bed bug infestations have risen 33% in one year (2009-2010).

It is speculated that bed bugs originated in caves inhabited by bats and humans in the Middle East thousands of years ago. The first mention of bed bugs in recorded history was in 400 B.C. in ancient Greece. Historical documents record the steady spread of bed bugs into Northern Europe over the next couple of millennia.
It is widely believed that bed bugs were brought to America aboard colonial ships in the 17th century. Bed bugs proliferated around the country, infesting homes, movie theatres, public transportation, schools, hotels, rooming houses and other locations from the 1600s through the 1950s.
In the 1950s pesticides such as DDT, chlordane, lindane and malathion were introduced. These long lasting pesticides were available to the general public and contributed to the virtual elimination of bed bugs in our country. The use of vacumn cleaners, washing machines and clothes dryers also become more common place during this era, contributing to the eradication of bed bugs.

For about fifty years, Americans lived without the threat of bed bugs, but due to a number of factors bed bugs are making a resurgence. (See Why Bed Bugs Are Back for more information.)
DDT, along with other effective but dangerous pesticides, were banned in the early 1970s because they were found to pose significant hazards to wildlife, the environment and human health. DDT is believed to be linked to the near extinction of the American Bald Eagle and the peregrine falcon.
Since the mid 1990s bed bugs have been making a resurgence in the United States. New York City and Philadelphia, our two neighbors, are named as the two most bed bug infested cities in the country. Stories about bed bugs infesting major clothing stores, hotels, schools, movie theaters and other public places are making the news.
As a result of rising infestations in apartment complexes, the New Jersey Senate is considering passed a bill mandating that owners of apartment buildings have yearly bed bug inspections and promptly treat bed bug infestations at their own expense or face fines and penalties. In Atlantic City, prior to the sale or rental of homes or apartments a bed bug inspection must be performed in order to get a certificate of occupancy.

Bed bugs are difficult to treat and are easily spread from location to location. Experts believe that they will continue to be a significant problem in this country for quite some time.