ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF GEOGRAPHY AND ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS DAWN BIEHLER
Since just before the year 2000, the U.S. has witnessed a resurgence of bedbugs, insects that had been mostly eradicated here in the middle of the twentieth century. In just the past few weeks, we have heard about infestations in an array of places: from federal government offices in Washington, to a public housing high-rise right here in Baltimore, to high-end Manhattan department stores. As bedbugs infiltrate public and private spaces alike, city governments, pest management professionals and regular people are scrambling to respond.
As a geographer and environmental historian, I look to our past experiences with bedbugs and other pests to reflect on responses to the current resurgence. History is an especially helpful tool for examining bedbugs because two generations of Americans have grown up with almost no exposure to these insects. Health officials and pest management professionals must reconstruct long-forgotten knowledge of bedbugs. My historical research on bedbugs and other pests reveals several key lessons for the way we deal with bedbugs today, and past experiences with bedbugs reinforce the importance of community involvement for successful bedbug control.
Dawn Biehler is the author of the forthcoming book, “Pests and the People: An Environmental History of Animals, Chemicals, and Health in the Home”