The 20th Century: Severe Infestations
During the early 1900s began to thrive year-round with the inventions of electric fans, cast-iron radiators and forced air heating. Infestations became so bad that it was estimated that one-third of all dwellings in the major cities had infestations. These pests became numerous; they were often seen traveling from house to house along piping, gutters and walls. Early formulas to kill them often contained pyrethrum powder, which was dispensed between sheets. Strict disinfestation protocols were also put into place to help prevent people from transporting the bugs from one house to another. The problem was so severe that England made families go to cleansing stations to disinfect their personal belongings using steam. Larger personal property items such as furniture were placed in vans, which were then fumigated using hydrogen cyanide. Many property owners in Germany demanded a written report from an exterminator for proof that the residence being vacated was free of any signs of infestation.
The War Years
Wartime also brought troubling times as the bugs were easily spread between soldiers on backpacks, belts and helmets. The infestations became so abundant during World War II that families of soldiers pressured Congress into taking measures to stop infestations. After hearings were held, barracks begin being fumigated using hydrogen cyanide. It was shortly after this that DDT was found to be safer and more cost-efficient in controlling military infestations. At this time they were commonly found in businesses, schools, nursing homes, hospitals, restaurants and other public places much like what is occurring again today. Measures were taken to help control the population such as replacing wood bed frames with metal frames and careful and frequent examinations of clothing and beds.
History of Bed Bug Traps
Devices were also commonly used throughout history for trapping the bugs.. Pans filled with kerosene or oil were placed under the legs of beds to prevent the bugs from climbing up into the bed. Devices that provide similar effects are still being marketed today.
The Use of Heat
Another method that has been used for centuries includes the use of heat. Boiling water was sometimes used to scald the pests. The first portable steamer to control bugs was patented in 1873, which consisted of a spout that emitted steam, which was moved over areas where bugs were suspected of hiding. Today, these steamers are more sophisticated and often used by professional exterminators.
Lessons for Today
With the recent return of infestations and knowing their history, prevention and detection requires skilled exterminators as well as public education. One of the most important aspects of management throughout history has been the exterminator’s thoroughness when using pesticide sprays. Skilled exterminators find every possible hiding place of bugs, which often involves taking beds apart, removing dresser drawers, rolling rugs back and taking pictures down from walls. They may also pry loose moldings and inspect books and floor lamps as well.
Comparing Exterminator Treatments With DIY Treatments
When comparing the treatments that exterminators use to do-it-yourself treatments, over-the-counter pesticide products that are labeled to control these pests are not recommended. Most of these products have not been tested for effectiveness.