Bedbug-related insecticide use poses toxicity risks

Illnesses caused by excessive and improper use of insecticides to control bedbug infestations are on the rise and may have contributed to the death of a 65-year-old North Carolina woman, the CDC reported.

Between 2003 and 2010 the agency identified 111 illnesses related to bedbug insecticide use, including the fatality, according to the Sept. 23 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Although most of the illnesses were relatively low in severity, the agency emphasized the importance of public education regarding safe and effective bedbug control measures as infestations continue to increase in the United States and abroad.

The CDC analyzed data from 12 states, reported to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Sentinel Event Notification System for Occupational Risks (SENSOR)-Pesticides program. 

Most of the cases — 73% — occurred between 2008 and 2010. Five states did not report any cases.

The 2010 death involved a woman who had a history of renal failure, myocardial infarction and two coronary stents, type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension and depression. She was taking at least 10 medications at the time of insecticide exposure, medical reports reveal.

After the woman complained of bedbugs, her husband applied insecticide to the baseboards, walls and areas surrounding the bed and a different insecticide to the mattress and box spring, neither of which were registered for use on bedbugs.

That same day the husband released nine cans of the insecticide fogger into the home. He repeated this process again approximately two days later, after which the woman applied bedbug and flea insecticide to her arms, sores on her chest and hair, before covering with a plastic cap.

Two days later, her husband found her unresponsive and brought her to the hospital where she was put on a ventilator for nine days before dying.

The CDC emphasized that this case was extreme. The majority of symptoms reported consisted of headache and dizziness (40%); respiratory symptoms, including pain irritation and dsypnea (40%); and gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting (33%).

Stepping up media campaigns about nonchemical bedbug control methods and prudent insecticide use, as well making insecticide labels easier to read and understand, are two prevention strategies the agency suggested.

“Persons who have a bed bug infestations should be encouraged to seek the services of a certified applicator who uses an integrated pest management (IPM) approach to avoid pesticide misuse,” the CDC wrote.

Nonchemical IPM methods promoted by the agency include enlisting licensed professionals to heat infested rooms 118°F for one hour or cool rooms to 3°F for one hour; encasing mattresses and box springs with covers to protect against bedbugs; and vacuuming, steaming, laundering and disposing of infested items.

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