Pesticides Used for Bed Bugs Can Sicken Workers


This is a cross-post from Occupational Health Watch, by Barbara Materna, chief of Occupational Health Branch, California Department of Public Health.

With bed bug infestations on the rise, pesticide illness related to bed bug control is an increasing problem. A national study reported illnesses among workers who applied pesticides to treat bed bugs and among hotel and maintenance workers who entered rooms after they were treated.

People exposed to pesticides used to treat bed bugs have reported headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms. The improper indoor use of pesticides meant only for outdoor use has caused significant illness and led to lengthy and expensive decontamination work. Illnesses have been reported even when pesticides were used according to the label instructions. Additionally, pesticides sometimes don’t work against bed bugs; bed bugs resistant to pesticides have been reported in California and in other states.

Non-chemical bed bug treatments are effective and can reduce the need for pesticides. The California Department of Public Health’s Occupational Pesticide Illness Prevention Program (OPIPP) recommends Integrated Pest Management (IPM) for bed bug control.

IPM is a pest control strategy that uses information about the pest’s life cycle and habitat needs to help prevent infestations and get rid of the pest. IPM includes physical methods of control, such as sanitation (eliminating clutter), exclusion (encasing mattresses, sealing crevices), removal (vacuuming); and non-chemical means of killing the pests (laundering or using steam, heat or cold treatments).

Bed bugs are a particularly challenging pest to control; therefore, if you have a bed bug problem, hire a pest control operator (PCO) certified in IPM rather than asking workers to apply pesticides or attempting to treat the problem yourself.

While it is possible to treat and control bed bugs without using pesticides, limited and targeted pesticide use may be part of a comprehensive strategy. Hire a PCO certified in IPM to ensure that the least hazardous pesticides are used in the safest manner possible (see the pesticide hazard alert for information on how to find certified companies).

* Pesticides used to treat bed bugs can make you sick (PDF)—OHB pesticide hazard alert

* Preventing worker illness from indoor pesticide exposure—OHB webpage

* Bed bugs—CDPH webpage

Each year pesticides poison hundreds of workers. California physicians are required to report any case of suspected pesticide poisoning and all suspected work-related injury or illness. OPIPP collects and examines these reports to learn more about occupational pesticide poisoning and preventing it.

OPIPP is part of OHB. OHB is dedicated to improving worker health and safety through prevention activities. We gather information on job hazards, work with others to test new approaches to prevent worker injury and illness and assist with making changes at the workplace. For more information, visit our website:

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