Health | Wed Dec 7, 2011 5:24am IST

All in the family: Inbreeding key to bedbug spread

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Inbreeding may be the secret to the bedbug's success, U.S. researchers said on Tuesday.

After nearly disappearing in the United States, the bloodsucking pests have made a comeback in recent years, quickly infesting apartment buildings and stubbornly resisting common insecticides.

The city of New York alone spends as much as $40 million a year in bedbug control.

A study of bedbug genetics presented on Tuesday at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene meeting in Philadelphia now suggests why.

A team of entomologists led by Coby Schal and Ed Vargo of North Carolina State University studied the genes of bedbugs infesting three multistory apartment buildings in North Carolina and New Jersey and found very low genetic diversity -- meaning most of them were very close relatives.

They were so close in fact that the team suspects it may have taken just one or two founder insects to start an entire infestation.

"We find that bedbug infestations basically start from a very small number of individuals," Schal said in a telephone interview.

"A single mated female bedbug starts the infestation. She gives rise to offspring and those offspring mate with each other and with their mother," he said.

"This is different from many animals," he said, mostly because close inbreeding can result in genetic deformities, adding, "In humans, it is taboo."

But he said there are some animals that can withstand such close inbreeding without experiencing detrimental effects including cockroaches.

Schal said this may be a trait of insects that have evolved an association with humans and rely on them to get from place to place.

Typically this happens when humans bring infested furniture into their homes, and he warns people to inspect second-hand furniture carefully.

"There is a myth out there that bedbugs get transported on people," Schal said.

Unlike ticks, the wingless, reddish-brown insects stay attached to people for a blood meal for just 5 to 10 minutes, he said.

"The chances that a person is carrying bedbugs on them is quite low."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bedbugs do not carry disease, but their bites can cause severe itching and a whole lot of anxiety.

Schal said his findings are not likely to lead to new insecticides for bedbugs, but they do underscore the need to move fast once bedbugs are detected.

"If you don't deal with them early they can spread thorough

a building very quickly," he said.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Reuters Exclusive

Reuters Showcase

Micromax Stake

Micromax Stake

SoftBank-led group in talks to buy stake in Micromax - sources  Full Article 

Plane Crash

Plane Crash

Co-pilot appears to have crashed Germanwings plane on purpose, prosecutor says  Full Article 

Airwaves Auction

Airwaves Auction

Top three mobile operators spend $13.6 bln in airwaves auction  Full Article 

Twitter Video App

Twitter Video App

Twitter launches video streaming app Periscope  Full Article 

Yemen Attacked

Yemen Attacked

Yemeni leader Hadi leaves country as Saudi Arabia keeps up air strikes on Houthi rebels  Full Article 

FIFA Politics

FIFA Politics

FIFA taking the wrong approach to development, says Prince Ali   Full Article 

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey

Downton Abbey to wind up after sixth season, producer says  Full Article 

Photo

Amazon Fashion

Indian designers will create new products for online shoppers: Amazon India fashion head  Full Article 

Australia Beat India

Australia Beat India

Smith shines as Australia down India to reach final  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device  Full Coverage 

X