Bed Bugs and Textiles

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Seshadri Ramkumar, Professor, Texas Tech University 

Recently, bed bugs made sensational news in France. Textiles are not the reasons for the resurgence of bed bugs. Although bed bugs are prevalent all over the world and do not cause any serious medical harm, the issue got hyped up to an extent that it became a topic of discussion in the French parliament. The news became sensational because of the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, which will attract about 15 million visitors bringing over US$ 270 billion in revenue due to travelers providing enormous business opportunity for travel, hospitality, and hotel sectors.  

The textiles industry that manufactures and exports home textiles may benefit from the Olympic games. Normally fine count cotton yarns are woven into tight weave structures to make bedspreads and other textiles that are consumed by hotel industry, stated Velmurugan Shanmugam, General Manager of Aruppukkottai, India based Jayalakshmi Textiles, which manufactures a variety of cotton yarns that go into home textiles.  

Home textiles sector will get a boost as France will have to import these textiles that find applications such as bedspreads, bath towels and tabletops, to name a few. Given the name “bed bugs,” it may send misleading information that beds and accessories like bed sheets are the reasons for the resurgence and the sudden growth of these pests, in France. 

Globalization and more travel by humans, particularly after the COVID-19 lockdowns are some reasons for increased bed bug infestations. “There has been global resurgence of bed bug population in the past 30 years,” stated Dr. Robert Puckett, Extension Entomologist at Texas A&M University.  

“Bed bugs are world class hitchhikers and are found in places where human rests such as beds, recliners, etc.,“ stated Anthony Mobley, Regional Manager at Fox Pest Control. According to experts, these pests can sense carbon dioxide which humans exhale and get attracted to them when they offer less resistance. “Bed bugs can detect carbon dioxide away from 20-feet when humans exhale,” stated Robert Puckett. 

Cimex lectularius is a major species of bed bug and is found globally. These pests feed on human blood and hence approach humans when they get the least resistance, i.e., while sleeping. As this is the case, these bugs appear at night in mattresses and bedspreads, however, these bugs rest in crevices and spaces such as electric socket holes. Therefore, textiles are not the reasons for growth in bed bug infestations, although these bugs can be transported by baggage, clothing items, etc. 

“Bed bugs are found in all 50 states in the United States and no city is immune from these bugs,” stated Anthony Mobley.  

Although there are no serious medical concerns, people are uncomfortable and lead to psychological discomfort. As these bugs suck human blood, they lead to irritations and itching on the skin.  Neonicotinoids and pyrethroids are common classes of insecticides that can be used. Over application of single class of insecticides lead to resistance,” stated Robert Puckett.  In the case of bed bug infestations, it is important to approach pest control specialists. “Bed sheets and curtains need to be removed, washed, and dried. Clothes in chest of drawers must be washed and dried,” advised Anthony Mobley. 

To my query on how to protect textiles and bedspreads, Anthony Mobily advised that clothes need to be dried for at least 30 minutes at a consistent temperature of 120o F or higher. High heat in dryer will kill eggs and adults agreed Robert Puckett. The textiles sector, particularly those that export home textiles, need not panic as textiles are not the cause for the sudden growth of the bed bug infestations. Proper pest management, isolating textile items infested with bugs, washing them, and having high temperature drying are some useful remedial measures.   Globe trotters and sport fans can travel to Paris safely in the summer of 2024 and enjoy the Olympics and French cuisine.