Ask A Toxicologist > I think I have a bed bug problem at my home. What are the risks to my family from using pesticides?

I think I have a bed bug problem at my home. What are the risks to my family from using pesticides?

posted on 11:38 AM, April 8, 2013

Bed bugs are a growing problem across the United States. Several challenges have emerged along with the bed bug problem, most important of which is how to manage an infestation. There have been many problems with consumers attempting to control the issue themselves. Many common household pesticide products are not effective at controlling these pests because the bed bugs have developed a resistance. Additionally, people can put themselves and their families at risk when incorrectly using readily available pesticide products.

Total release foggers (TRFs) are one example of a pesticide product that, when not used according to the labeling instructions, can result in injury and illness. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently issued a report about problems that have occurred when foggers are misused in the home. These include using too many foggers, poorly ventilating the area, failing to leave the treated space, or notifying others that the fogger is being used. Health problems include cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, nausea and vomiting. There have been reports of explosions from the misuse of foggers, especially when used in the presence of an ignition source like a gas pilot light or other open flame.

When it comes to pesticides, there is no magic bullet to control bed bugs. The first step in the process should be confirming that the pest is actually a bed bug. The National Pesticide Information Center has some important tips on the assessment and control of bed bugs. Many experts agree that pesticides should usually not be the first line of attack for controlling an infestation, but rather a combination of approaches that include non-chemical treatments (such as vacuuming, heat and steam, or cold.) If you are considering the use of a pesticide product as part of the approach, read the label carefully to ensure that the product targets bed bugs. The Environmental Protection Agency has developed a search tool that can help in choosing a pesticide product.  Always follow the pesticide label instructions to reduce the health risks to yourself and your family, and when in doubt, consult with a pest management professional.