For most of the past 50 years, the bedtime admonition, "Sleep tight - don't let the bed bugs bite," held little meaning for American children. That's no longer true, leaving scientists, parents, and others who sleep in a bed scratching their heads … and their backs, arms, legs, and everywhere else.
Bed bugs are back with a vengeance across the nation, including Ohio. Infestations are said to be widespread in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Dayton.
And they've been found in Toledo. Local homes contributed two recent bed-bug samples. An inspection last December by a bed-bug-sniffing dog found the tiny bloodsuckers had taken up residence in several Lucas County Metropolitan Housing Authority properties.
About the size of apple seeds, the biting critters were man's bedtime companions for centuries. The widespread use of DDT led to a steep decline in bed-bug numbers in the 1940s and 1950s. But DDT was banned in the 1970s. That prohibition, along with changes in other household pest-eradication methods, opened the door for a resurgence in bed-bug numbers.
The insects can be found anywhere people live, but they're especially attracted to high-traffic places where large numbers of people dwell, such as housing complexes, apartment buildings, hotels, and dormitories. Infestations are especially tough on poor and elderly people who may not be able to afford exterminators.
The new generation of bed bugs is proving highly resistant to many commonly available pesticides. That has led some desperate people and unscrupulous companies to treat infected rooms with dangerous chemicals designed for outside use.
The best way to get rid of the vermin appears to be multiple treatments with approved chemicals, vacuuming, and steam. Replacing furniture, mattresses, and even clothes may be necessary as well.
Cincinnati and other hard-hit areas have asked the federal Environmental Protection Agency to approve the pesticide propoxur for indoor use. The EPA identified the pesticide as a probable carcinogen and said no to indoor use in 2007.
The EPA should not relax its standards. Bed bugs, while a scourge, are not disease carriers. The most serious health threat they pose is their bites becoming infected from scratching. That makes them less dangerous than the cure Cincinnati and other cities are seeking.
Instead, the EPA must follow through on its promise to find new chemicals that will kill bed bugs without harming human hosts. The longer it takes, the more people will suffer from the itching and scratching.
Still, that's better than playing Russian roulette with a probable cancer-causing chemical.