Towards Eradicating a Global Pest Insect
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Sheffield
Unit of AssessmentBiological Sciences
Summary Impact TypePolitical
Research Subject Area(s)
Biological Sciences: Ecology, Genetics, Zoology
Summary of the impact
An academic from the University of Sheffield assisted the USA's
Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in producing National (USA) standards,
guidelines, and recommendations to drive the efficacy testing of
commercial products for controlling bed-bug infestations. Sheffield was
approached because of the excellence of Professor Siva-Jothy's research
group in establishing key aspects of ecology and behaviour that underpin
our knowledge of bed bugs, and therefore, their control. Siva-Jothy agreed
to join the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel in 2012 and the regulatory
document (SAP# 2012-03) that he was involved in producing is the first to
regulate and provide evidence-based guidance for the bed-bug control
industry, which is dealing with a population explosion because of
inappropriate control practices and chemicals. Bed-bug infestation is a
serious and growing health issue in many, and perhaps most, urban
population centres worldwide, with litigation costs in the hospitality
industry in the USA already exceeding $500M p.a. The new
regulations have significant impact on health and welfare and public
Bed bugs have recently emerged as a global pest (e.g. Doggett et al.
2004; Environ. Health. 4:30-38). Professor Mike Siva-Jothy has
been conducting research on the bed bug, Cimex lectularius, in
Sheffield since 1999 and has established an international reputation for
bed-bug research. His research group have used bed-bugs to study how
insect immune systems operate and evolve, and how sexual conflict affects
insect evolution of life-history traits (2000-present). Sheffield
researchers have included Dr Klaus Reinhardt (who joined Siva-Jothy's
group in 2002, and left in 2010 to form his own research group in Tübingen
to study reproduction in bed bugs) and Richard Naylor (who joined in 2000
and graduated as a PhD CASE student in 2012) [R1-3].
To progress their research aims, the team first had to understand and
quantify previously unknown aspects of the bed bug's biology and ecology.
For example, in order to understand the context in which this insect's
immune organ evolved, it was necessary to understand the ecological
context in which it functioned. So, although the primary aim of the
research was to address generic questions in evolution and immunity, the
team had to start by identifying the natural behaviour and ecology of this
insect. Knowledge of these aspects of bed-bug biology is also critical in
designing effective control protocols and testing the efficacy of
pesticides — the aims of the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel — and underpins
the impact described here. The relevant data are captured in 17 research
publications spanning 2003-12. The SAP document described in section 4
cites three of these publications [R4-6].
References to the research
R1 Stutt, A. & Siva-Jothy, M.T. 2001. Traumatic insemination
and sexual conflict in the bed bug Cimex lectularius. Proc.
Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 98, 5683-5687. doi: 10.1073/pnas.101440698
R2 Reinhardt, K., Naylor, R.A., & Siva-Jothy, M.T. 2009.
Situation exploitation: higher male mating success when female resistance
is reduced by feeding. Evolution, 63, 29-39. doi: 10.1111/j.1558-5646.2008.00502.x
R3 Reinhardt, K., Naylor, R.A., & Siva-Jothy, M.T. 2009
Ejaculate compounds delay reproductive senescence while increasing female
reproductive rate in an insect. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, 51,
21743-21747. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0905347106
Research cited in the EPA SAP regulatory document:
R4 Siva-Jothy, M. 2006. Trauma, disease and collateral damage:
conflict in cimicids. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. Lond, B 361, 269-275.
R6 Naylor, R. Boase, C.J., Bajomi, D. 2008. Efficacy of
(S)-methoprene against the bed bug Cimex lectularius. Pp 115-121
in Robinson, W., Bajomi, D. (eds). Proc. 6th Intl. Conf. Urban Pests.
OOK-Press, Hungary. Available at http://www.icup.org.uk/reports%5CICUP863.pdf
Details of the impact
The research has had an impact on Health and Welfare (decisions
by a regulatory authority have been informed by the research); impact on commerce
(a business sector has adopted a new policy to which the research has
contributed); impact on public policy (the policy has informed new
regulations, control measures for infection have been improved); and
impact on services (professional standards have been influenced by
Impact on policy
Professor Siva-Jothy's research expertise informed and guided the task of
the US Environmental Protection Agency's Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP)
to consider and review methods for efficacy testing of bed bug pesticides
Siva-Jothy was asked to become a member of the EPA Scientific Advisory
Panel and to assist in defining product testing and control protocols for
bed bugs. He travelled, at the EPA's expense, to attend a 2-day meeting at
the Environment Protection Agency conference centre in Arlington, in March
2012 [S2]. Notably, Siva-Jothy was the only member of the panel
from outside of the USA. The policy document resulting from this meeting
defined, for the first time, how products used to eradicate bed bugs
should be tested and what variables are required to show that they are
effective. The new regulations mean that it will no longer be possible for
practitioners to use unregulated control techniques that have previously
exacerbated the problem because they (a) failed to control local
infestations (which then expand), (b) often enhanced dispersal (because
they use non-lethal compounds in generic ways that stimulate the resistant
bed bugs to disperse) and (c) produced a distrust of reputable
pest-control practitioners, so that infestations went unreported,
enhancing population growth. A letter from the Executive Secretary of the
EPA Scientific Advisory Panel acknowledges the value of Siva-Jothy's
contribution "It is because of Dr Siva-Jothy's extensive and renown
expertise on bedbug life history, behavior and ecology that he was
invited to participate in this meeting [the SAP]. The knowledge he has
gained from his research experience contributed greatly to the
scientific underpinnings of the Panel's advice and recommendations as
contained in SAP Minutes #2012-03." [S3].
Impact on Industry and changing practice.
Many legitimate urban-pest controllers were using compounds and
techniques designed for other urban insect pests (such as cockroaches or
termites), which had no effect on bed-bugs. More worryingly, because there
was no informed guidance on the application protocols, they were being
used in a manner that was compounding the problem (i.e. producing
dispersal). The SAP document defines the objective testing protocols in
respect to chemical efficacy by experimental designs that capture efficacy
on wild bed-bug populations `in the field'. This means that the standard,
long-established laboratory-based approaches are now considered
inadequate. The research output and expertise from Siva-Jothy was critical
in informing the design of the protocols in this document. The SAP
document is the first attempt by any government to provide evidence-based
guidelines for control practices and pesticide efficacy for this globally
resurgent pest. The consequence of this regulation in the USA is that the
bed-bug pest control industry is now largely restricted to professional
practitioners who follow the guidelines and use chemicals that have been
approved via the protocols in the SAP document. Untrained,
fly-by-night practitioners using cheap, untested chemicals can no longer
operate and customers now get an effective professional service. Two main
professional bodies currently ensure that the standards in the SAP
document are applied by their members: BedBug Central and The National
Pest Management Association of America (NPMA). These member associations
who provide a broad-based training for thousands of companies across the
US, recognise that the research conducted by Siva-Jothy has been core to
the provision that has increased the effectiveness of their practitioners
[S4,S5]. The impact of Siva-Jothy's contributions is confirmed in
letters from the Technical Director of BedBug Central, and the Executive
Officer of The National Pest Management Association who state that:
"Prof. Siva-Jothy's and his group's research (via publication and the
plenary to our members) has influenced the practices of BedBug Central
and assisted in advancing its recommended protocol which reaches
hundreds of thousands of people every year", and "Having Mike
present the results of his evidence-based research on bed bug behaviour,
ecology and life-history has been crucial in helping the industry
develop innovative control strategies across the United States. Our
members are involved in thousands of treatments nationwide; therefore
the impact of Mike's research is far-reaching and very important."
Impact on individuals/health.
Best estimates suggest that ca 1M people are affected by bed bugs
in New York City alone. Figure 1 shows web-site notification of confirmed
infestations across the USA: This registry tends to capture
hospitality-related infestations, as reported by an affluent, web-literate
demographic. The demographic affected by bed bugs is much wider than that
represented in the data and, in the developed world, the nucleus of urban
infestations tends to be social housing and/or vulnerable members of
The EPA's web site (http://www.epa.gov/bedbugs/)
reflects the urgency for education of the problem. For example, control
measures in apartment blocks initiated by a single complaint subsequently
revealed that >50% of apartments were infested, with the occupants
failing to report despite presenting to doctors with "allergies" — i.e.
extensive exposure and reaction to bed-bug bites. The bedbugregistry (http://bedbugregistry.com/metro/)
allows self-reporting of infestations (Fig. 1) and is the only
organisation tracking infestation at a national scale.
The number of people affected in developed continues to rise, and
although bed bugs do not transmit disease, they have a huge economic cost.
Extermination and management costs can exceed $6,000 pa per
apartment; litigation in the hospitality industry exceeds $500M pa
in the USA, and indirect effects (on mental health, fatigue caused by loss
of sleep and itching) are only just beginning to be measured. Although the
socio-political relevance of this pest is largest in the USA, it is an
increasing if less visible or officially acknowledged problem in London,
Paris, Sydney and most major international cities.
The nature and extent of the impact is long-term: the Environmental
Protection Agency document published by the Scientific Advisory Panel
(including Siva-Jothy) now underpins product certification, and has
galvanised the control industry in the USA to standardise its protocols
and codes of practice. There are now standardised, scientifically
informed, review, testing and application protocols being implemented.
Since the SAP document sets the standard by which other national testing
protocols will be developed, the likely impact will reach beyond the USA.
The level of Professor Siva-Jothy's contribution to this impact is
underlined by Dr Feldlaufer, an entomologist at the United States
Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA/ARS) who
states "Prof. Siva-Jothy's laboratory has made seminal contributions
to our knowledge of bed bugs in the context of modern ecological and
evolutionary theory and had generated most of our modern understanding
of bed bug biology. The body of knowledge generated by his research
effort has provided critical reference sources on which to build control
strategies in the United States" [S6].
Sources to corroborate the impact
S1 FIFRA SAP document # 2012-03.
This is the EPA regulatory document citing the research described in this
Online resource documenting the EPA meeting, and from where the report
can be downloaded.
S3 Letter from Executive Secretary (Laura Bailey), FIFRA SAP,
confirming the significant contribution of Siva-Jothy. This letter is
quoted above and is available in full on request.
S4 Letter from Technical Director of BedBug Central (www.bedbugcentral.com)
(Dr Jeff White), an organisation that informs the pest control industry
(it has ≥60 affiliated companies) and provides support for the public
(400,000 web-site visitors pa), confirming the contribution of the
Sheffield group's research to the work of this national advisory body.
Quoted from above, and available on request.
S5 Letter from Executive Officer (Jim Fredricks), The National
Pest Management Association of the USA, representing >7,000
professional firms across the USA with annual revenue over $3bn,
confirming the impact of the data from the Sheffield group on industry
activities and guidelines. Quoted from above, and available on request.
S6 Letter from USDA/ARS (Dr M Feldlaufer), Bldg 1040, BARC-East,
Beltsville MD20705, USA, confirming the importance of the Sheffield
group's research influencing US Department of Agriculture's strategy for
controlling bed-bug infestations in the USA. Quoted from above, and
available on request.