Source: New York Times Online, September 23, 2011
Posted on: http://fpn.advisen.com
As bedbugs have made a comeback, aided by resistance to pesticides and spread by worldwide travel, scientists have found that panic over the blood-sucking pests may be more dangerous than their bite. Some people are misusing poisonous chemicals in a desperate bid to eradicate the pests, federal officials said Thursday.
At least 111 people in seven states 64 of them in New York City have been sickened by the overuse or misuse of common pesticides against bedbugs over the last eight years, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. One person who became ill, a woman in North Carolina, died after dousing her home and herself with pesticides.
The poisonings serve as a warning, experts said, that people could do more damage to their health by misusing pesticides than they would suffer from the bedbugs, which are upsetting and unpleasant, but not known to be carriers of disease.
People lose their minds and, yeah, theyll do a lot of things trying to get rid of them, said Dini M. Miller, associate professor of urban pest management at Virginia Tech. Certainly the overapplication of pesticides is one of them.
When Lilah Gray started getting bitten by bedbugs, all she could think of was getting rid of them. Her husband sprayed and saturated their double-wide trailer home in Rocky Mount, N.C., with pesticides. But convinced that she could still feel the bugs crawling on her, Ms. Gray soaked a napkin with Hot Shot Bedbug and Flea Killer and applied it directly to her chest, then soaked her hair in pesticide and put a plastic bag over it.
Within a few days, Ms. Gray, 65, who had a history of breathing problems, was hospitalized and breathing with the aid of a ventilator. She died on May 26, 2010, of respiratory failure, which, a federal official said Thursday, is believed to have been exacerbated by high doses of pesticides. Most of the other poisoning cases were mild, with victims commonly having headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting.
Ms. Gray is the only known fatality. But the actual number of poisonings could be far larger, because the federal study looked only at the 12 states that conduct surveillance of pesticide-related illnesses.
New York City had the most cases, followed by the rest of New York State, Washington, Michigan, North Carolina, Florida, Texas and California. New York City health officials said the numbers were higher in the city because the health department had actively searched for suspected bedbug poisoning cases.
The most common reasons for poisoning were excess use of insecticide, failure to wash or change bedding that had been treated with pesticide, and failure to notify the people living in the home that the pesticides had been applied.
Almost all of the cases, including the death, involved the use of pyrethroids, pyrethrins or both, which are commonly found in drugstore and hardware store pesticides, and widely available in over-the-counter shampoos used to treat head lice in children.
When Ms. Gray complained of bedbugs, her husband applied Ortho Home Defense Max to baseboards, walls and the area surrounding her bed, and Ortho Bug-B-Gon Max Lawn and Garden Insect Killer to her mattress and box spring, according to the federal report. Neither is registered for use on bedbugs.
Over several days, Ms. Grays husband used nine cans of Hot Shot Fogger and nine cans of Hot Shot Bedbug and Flea Fogger in their home. Ms. Gray also applied the bedbug and flea killer to her skin and hair.
Ms. Grays daughter, Theresa G. Thomas, said she had pleaded with her mother to stop using the pesticides. But, Ms. Thomas said, She felt things were crawling all over her. Ms. Gray slept on a sheet placed over a mattress that had been freshly saturated with pesticide, her daughter said.
Federal investigators believe that Ms. Gray died of pesticide exposure in conjunction with chronic medical problems, including heart, lung and kidney disease, according to Dr. Geoffrey M. Calvert, senior medical officer at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Ms. Thomas, a school counselor, said she had had a hard time getting her mothers doctor to listen to her concerns about the pesticides, and felt vindicated by the federal report.
I hope we can save another family from going through what we went through, she said.