The Georgetown Hotel and Conference Center was invaded by bed bugs this week, but only through photographs and speeches.

Experts from government agencies and universities gathered on the Hilltop on Feb. 1-2 to discuss research on bed bugs and steps that should be taken to tackle the mounting problem at the second National Bed Bug Summit.

Recent years have marked a major rise in incidents of bedbugs in the United States, and the amount of research has risen correspondingly, according to panelist Coby Schal, who has a doctorate in entomology, of North Carolina State University. Over several previous decades, bed bugs were generally believed to have been eliminated in Western countries, though they remained prevalent in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, Schal said.

“This work is not just of academic interest,” panelist Mark Feldlaufer, Ph.D., of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said. “[Questions about bed bugs] are not simply questions spurred by curiosity, but by a need to address an applied problem.”

The problem is a very real one in D.C., as universities in the area saw a number of bed bug infestations this academic year.

Georgetown had one reported case of bed bugs in a university townhouse in September. The George Washington University had six cases of the small, blood-sucking insects in five student dormitories during the fall 2010 semester.

Due to the earlier period of low bed bug incidence in the U.S. and Europe, research on bed bugs continues to lag behind research on other common pests, according to Schal. The scientific community has about 50 times the amount of knowledge on mosquitoes than it has on bedbugs, Schal said.

About 150 people attended the summit, including officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Defense and National Institutes of Health, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

During his presentation, Schal discussed research areas including types of disease transmission, interactions with asthma and allergies and new pesticides. He said that current studies that focus on the bed bug genome and the use of genetic diversity patterns can track the sources of infestations. Schal concluded his speech with a call for increased investment in research from the public and private sectors.

Additional panel topics presented included the roles of local, state and federal governments in bed bug control and prevention, consumer education, improvements in prevention and control techniques and the current state of bed bug knowledge and research needs. The summit concluded with breakout sessions on education, research, and control strategies and ended with the formulation of recommendations for a national strategy for bed bug control.

 

The first Bed Bug Summit was held in April 2009 in Washington, D.C. Since then, the EPA has helped coordinate the activities of the Federal Bed Bug Workgroup, and made recommendations about the role of the government in fighting bed bugs, consumer education and communication and the roles of property owners and managers.

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