Driving international policy to eradicate a global pest

Bed bug

Our world-leading research is helping fight infestations of bed bugs by informing international policy on this global pest.

Bed bug expert Professor Mike Siva-Jothy, from our Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, has helped produce national guidelines for controlling these insects in the United States.

Professor Siva-Jothy has established an international reputation for bed bug research. His research group has used bed bugs to study how insect immune systems operate and evolve, and how sexual conflict affects insect life-history traits.

Working on a special advisory panel to congress formed by the USA’s Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Professor Siva-Jothy made recommendations to set standards for the testing of commercial products for controlling bed bug infestations.

Bed bugs are a serious and growing health issue in many developed urban population centres worldwide.

The small blood-sucking insects can live in cracks and crevices in and around your bed. They don’t transmit disease but their bites can itch and cause skin irritations.

In the United States litigation costs in the hospitality industry are already exceeding $500M per annum and extermination and management costs can exceed $6,000 per apartment. The indirect effects on mental health, fatigue caused by loss of sleep and itching are only just beginning to be measured.

Estimates suggest that in New York alone, one million people are affected by bed bugs.

Professor Siva-Jothy, who has been conducting research on the bed bug for over 15 years agreed to join the United States EPA Scientific Advisory Panel in 2012.

The regulatory document that he was involved in producing for the EPA is the first to regulate and provide evidence-based guidance for the bed bug control industry in the USA.

For the first time, the document defines how products used to eradicate bed bugs should be tested and what variables are required to show that they are effective. It will now not be possible for practitioners to use unregulated control techniques which have previously exacerbated the problem.

Professor Mike Siva–Jothy, said: “Before these guidelines were produced many legitimate urban-pest controllers were using compounds and techniques designed for other urban insect pests, such as cockroaches or termites, which had no effect on bed bugs.

"More worryingly, because there was no informed guidance on the application protocols, they were being used in a manner that was compounding the problem."

Professor Siva-Jothy, who in 2014 was asked to be on the advisory board of the National Pest Management Association of the United States, is keen to also work with other countries to help to eradicate bed bugs worldwide. The number of people affected by bed bugs globally continues to rise with infestations in London, Paris, Sydney and most major international cities.

Dr. Feldlaufer, an entomologist at the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS) said: “Professor Siva-Jothy’s laboratory has made seminal contributions to our knowledge of bed bugs in the context of modern ecological and evolutionary theory and had generated most of our modern understanding of bed bug biology.

"The body of knowledge generated by his research effort has provided critical reference sources on which to build control strategies in the United States"