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Key Points
  • The limited number of target bedbug species favours biological control
  • The domestic and commercial settings of bedbug infestations favour the use of biological agents due to a number of factors, including high population densities, low levels of ultraviolet light, and sheltered environmental settings
  • The use of biological control agents for insects is well-established, and suitable agents are known (and used) for other insect species
  • The use of a control agent in domestic and other human-occupied settings favours an approach that minimises the use of conventional pesticides
  • Regulatory processes are in place for the approval of biological insecticides, which are viewed favourably by the US Environmental Protection Agency
  • Public pressure has the potential to support adoption in commercial premises 
  • Agent isolation procedures, formulation and delivery will be similar to that used for an acaricide product, with which a bed bug product will have significant potential for market synergy
Bedbug CDCBedbugs are blood-sucking insects present in bedding. They are a resurgent problem in many developed nations. They were considered to be eliminated as a problem following widespread use of the insecticide DDT in the mid-twentieth century. However, following restrictions on the use of DDT (including a ban in the USA in 1972) along with increased levels of travel, bedbug populations have soared.
Bedbug bites can cause allergic reactions and, in severe cases, anemia. Bedbugs have a worldwide distribution and have been suspected of transmitting infectious diseases to humans. Though a role in disease transmission remains to be proven, they do contain extensive microbiological communities. As a result, the medical community’s interest in them has increased dramatically over the past 10 years.
While there are at least 75 species of bedbugs, only two are known to routinely feed on humans. The tropical bedbug (Cimex hemipterus) is not common in temperate countries. In Europe and the United States the predominant problem is Cimex lectularius, the common bedbug. This restricted number of target species supports the potential for biological control.

Resistance by bedbugs to existing pesticides is already becoming apparent. In addition, they do not have communal nests and have shown limited response to available baits. This means that contact with conventional pesticides can be very limited. In addition, recolonisation following even successful clearance efforts is both rapid and difficult to avoid.

A document handed out on the street in New York

A document handed out on the street in New York

A biological agent able to multiply and spread within the infested environment would have a significant advantage. In addition, the demonstrated ability of biological agents to persist in the environment and to produce long-term control would be advantageous. Perception of this as a “green”, environmentally friendly option would also aid uptake, especially if supported by organic certification. Public revulsion will also support sales of such a product (see above).

Given the social pressures to avoid biting insect infestations, it is anticipated that an effective biological control could find ready use both in domestic and in commercial settings, replacing and supplementing chemical agents which are of limited efficacy. There is a high level of concern regarding the transfer of bedbugs from hotels to the home environment, so alongside domestic use the potential for use by hotels of an environmentally friendly bedbug control could be very significant.