Tropical bed bugs found in Florida after 60-year absence

A tropical bed bug.  University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences photo.
A tropical bed bug. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences photo.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) – A type of bed bug that has not been seen for 60 years has resurfaced and researchers think that this tropical species of bed bug can develop more quickly than the common bed bug.

“This could mean that this species would develop more quickly, possibly cause an infestation problem sooner, and also could spread more rapidly,” said Brittany Campbell, a doctoral student at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, where the tropical bed bug finding was confirmed.

In 2015, a Brevard County family reported finding tropical bed bugs in their home. UF/IFAS scientists confirmed the bug finding, which is the only finding in Florida. The last time tropical bed bugs were confirmed in Florida was back in the 1930s and 1940s, according to UF/IFAS.

Experts speculated the tropical bed bugs may have arrived in a ship at Port Canaveral, not far from the local infestation, according to a WESH report.  The family who found the bed bugs live near the Ulumay Wildlife Refuge on Merritt Island.

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UF/IFAS scientists think it’s possible they’ll find the bug in other parts of Florida and in the South because the tropical bed bug lives in tropical and sub-tropical climates.

“I personally believe that in Florida, we have all of the right conditions that could potentially help spread tropical bed bugs, which is the case in other southern states,” said Campbell in a UF/IFAS publication.

“As long as you have people traveling and moving bed bugs around, there is a real potential for this species to spread and establish in homes and other dwellings.”

An epidemiologist told WESH that bed bugs are attracted to a person’s pheromone. “They are stimulated when we go to bed at night. We release a pheromone, and that pheromone attracts them,” said Barry Inman, Brevard County Health Department epidemiologist.

Other than its geographic preference, the tropical bed bug is similar to the common bed bug, which is found in all 50 states.

Brittany Campbell co-authored a journal article on the tropical bed bug finding. She said that biologically, tropical bed bugs mirror common bed bugs in that they feed on human blood. So they’re likely to cause similar health problems if you get a severe infestation: fear, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, and itchy, blistery reactions on some people.

RELATED: Bed bugs bite man riding motorized shopping cart at Walmart

Campbell suggested that tropical bed bugs be controlled in the same manner as common bed bugs.

“If they do have a bed bug infestation, because they are so difficult to control, I ask that people consult a pest-control company for a professional service. There isn’t as much research available on tropical bed bugs as common bed bugs, but hypothetically they should be able to be controlled the same way as the common bed bug species because their biology/behavior are similar,” said Campbell.

UF/IFAS is asking people to send them samples of bed bugs for identification.

If you think you have tropical bed bugs, you can send them directly to Brittany Campbell at the UF/IFAS entomology and nematology department; University of Florida; 1881 Natural Area Drive, Gainesville, Florida, 32611 or to the identification lab at UF (http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/insectid/).

Campbell recommends people place their insects either into a small plastic container or sealed into a plastic bag, folded over multiple times to help cushion the insects from being smashed. You can kill them first by placing them into the freezer but live specimens are allowed as well, she said.

All types of bed bugs are becoming more common, experts say. “You get a female who gets a blood meal from someone, she can lay thousands of eggs and may not need another blood meal for some time,” Dr. Inman told WESH.

It’s hard to kill bed bugs. It generally takes direct and repeated spraying.

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