Fear the Pesticides, Not the Bedbugs

Lilah Gray of Rocky Mount, NC, has the horrific distinction of being the only person to have a confirmed fatal reaction to pesticide poisoning.

Like just about everywhere in the world, North Carolina is experiencing a panic over bedbugs. These nasty little insects are infesting more and more dwellings. They can live in even the cleanest homes–hygiene has nothing to do with infestation. The only thing bedbugs need to be happy is a human being, which becomes a source of food as the bugs sneak out in the night to bite and feed on blood. They can be carried into your house if you bring in infected secondhand furniture, or if they crawl into your luggage after a stay in an infected hotel room.

Unfortunately, bedbugs are extremely difficult to eradicate, which makes some people panic when bedbugs are found. And when panic sets in, people put themselves in danger.

After a 12-state study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC reported that improper use of insecticides by individuals looking to kill bedbugs resulted in 80 illnesses and one fatality over a three-year period. That one fatality was Lilah Gray.

According to an article in The New York Times:

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 days, she died of respiratory failure, exacerbated by high doses of pesticides. While Ms. Gray is the only known fatality, the actual number of poisonings could be higher than anyone suspects. The CDC’s study only looked at information from 12 states, and only had access to data from people who sought medical help for their illness. Of the cases that were reported:

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.

Ms. Gray has become the “poster child” for proper use of pesticides. She is a visible warning of exactly how dangerous these chemicals can be. Experts and physicians want people to get the message that misuse of pesticides can damage health… and that these chemicals may be worse than the bugs they are supposed to kill.

So…what should you do if you suspect bedbugs?  First, make sure you actually have an infestation. Scientists have found that fewer than 10 percent of the bugs people think are bedbugs really are. Then, visit the EPA’s excellent bedbug page:  Bed Bug Information. It tells you what to look for, and how to treat an actual infestation. It also provides pictures of signs of actual bedbugs. In addition, the EPA provides tips to prevent pesticide poisoning:

  • Never use a pesticide indoors that is intended for outdoor use. It is very dangerous and won’t solve your bed bug problem.
  • Using the wrong pesticide or using it incorrectly to treat for bed bugs can make you sick, may not solve the problem, and could even make it worse by causing the bed bugs to hide where the pesticide won’t reach them.
  • Check if the product is effective against bedbugs — if a pest isn’t listed on the product label, the pesticide has not been tested on that pest and it may not be effective. Don’t use a product or allow a pest control operator to treat your home unless bed bugs are named on the product label.
  • Before using any pesticide product, READ THE LABEL FIRST, then follow the directions for use.
  • Keep in mind that any pesticide product without an EPA registration number has not been reviewed by EPA, so we haven’t determined how well the product works.


To read the full article in The New York Times, click here:  Panic Over Bedbugs Can Create More Health Risks Than Their Bites

To read about EPA bedbug information, click here:  EPA page

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