Bed Bugs Shied Away With Less Pandemic Travel. They’re Not Gone

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They latch onto clothes and luggage in search of human blood. But less travel during the Covid-19 pandemic has helped keep away these unwanted visitors: bed bugs.

Pest professionals have gotten fewer calls over the last year in part because the insects, which like to settle into mattresses, haven’t been able to spread as widely. Terminix Global Holdings, a pest management company, said it expects to see “continued lower trends in bed bug services due to reduced travel during the pandemic,” according to its 2021 outlook released Thursday.

The Memphis, Tennessee-based company, with a market value of $5.9 billion, reported that one-time sales of new bed bug services declined by about $3 million in the second quarter because of Covid-19.

Bed bugs typically spread through human movement and can be found anywhere humans linger, including homes, hotels, hospitals and cars. Their bites are painless but they are difficult to eliminate. They were nearly eradicated in the U.S. in the 1940s because of potent pesticides, but the bed bug population spiked again in the early 2000s with an increase in international travel.

“I’ve talked to multiple pest control companies, who have said that they have had reduced calls over 2020 for bed bug jobs,” said Brittany Campbell, staff entomologist at the National Pest Management Association. She added that new techniques and products have curtailed the spread of bed bugs in the past two to three years.

Behind Closed Doors

Terminix said bed bug infestations have declined because people are traveling less and fewer workers go into offices. But reporting of the problem also dropped because people have been reluctant during the pandemic to invite professionals to their homes for hours of treatment.

“Bed bugs are still very prevalent in multifamily housing and spreading through these communities,” said Richard Cooper, Terminix’s senior director of specialty services. “This can lead to an increase in residents’ self-treating, which is unlikely to be effective, promotes further spread and can be unsafe if residents are not using appropriate materials or using materials incorrectly.”

Orkin, a pest control subsidiary under Rollins, Inc., also said it’s seen a decline in bed bug activities year-over-year. In the past year, New York City, an international travel hub, fell to No. 12 from No. 6 among the top U.S. cities with bed bugs, according to Orkin, which ranks cities based on the number of treatments it performs. The top three bed bug locations are Chicago, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

Pest professionals warn that the bugs are bound to spread again as people resume travel. Bed bug service calls gradually picked up last fall when people began traveling more, said Benjamin Hottel, a technical services manager at Orkin. And the bugs haven’t disappeared: They can live for a year without eating.

“Currently, they are just not moving but they are not dying out. They are not gone, just inactive,” Terminix’s Cooper said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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