Bed bugs are one of the fastest-growing pest control emergencies today. The brown apple seed-sized flightless bugs can hide anywhere, from electrical switch plates to peeling wallpaper. At night they emerge to feed on sleeping people, delivering a painless bite. Thus, one may not know they are there until seeing the signs, spots of blood on bedsheets.
Worldwide, beg bug infestations have increased by more than 4,500% (That’s not a typo!) since the turn of the century. Able to hide away almost anywhere, they are incredibly difficult to eradicate.
However, one would think eliminating bed bugs in a relatively small space would be no problem for the US Navy. Not so, according to a report from the Navy Times. Petty officers on the fast-attack submarine Connecticut allege they have been battling bed bugs for most of 2020 until now, but they didn’t have proof initially.
Although there were extensive efforts to eliminate the bloodsuckers, the sailors say bed bugs continued to spread. Some say they began “sleeping in chairs or on the floor of the crew’s mess” to try to evade bites.
“People were getting eaten alive in their racks,” said one petty officer
A Naval spokeswoman said they didn’t find the “physical presence” of bed bugs onboard until Feb. 19. The Navy has even brought entomologists onboard with efforts that include “deadly countermeasures,” said Naval Submarine Forces Pacific spokeswoman Cynthia Fields
According to a Connecticut petty officer “who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution,” the bed bugs arrived after the sub traveled to the Arctic Ocean for routine training.
“We’ve had bed bugs for a year now,” the petty officer said. “Sailors complained about getting bitten in the racks.”
“People are terrified of getting bit,” he added.
Due to lack of sleep, a petty officer suggested potentially dangerous consequences.
“If someone’s sleep-deprived because they’re in the rack getting eaten alive by bed bugs, he could fall asleep at (the controls) and run us into an underwater mountain,” the petty officer said.
Live Bait for Bed Bugs?
Although the Navy employed steaming and sanitizing efforts to eradicate the bugs, they can squeeze through a crack the size of a toothpick. So, the sailors say the bugs remain and allege that leadership has said they are lying if they suggest otherwise.
After efforts to kill the bed bugs, sailors say officers ordered them to return to their racks with the full crew.
One officer said they felt like they were “live bait.”
“They’re using us as live bait…to see if (the bed bugs) are still there,” one petty officer said. “The upper chain of command isn’t going to sleep in those racks. They’re going to make the lower enlisted do it.”
In response, Fields said Navy entomologists had taken “all feasible measures” to “control” the bed bugs.
“After two applications of Navy approved pesticide sprays, and application of a long-acting diatomaceous dust…entomologists recommended repopulation of berthing,” she said. “All appropriate countermeasures have been taken with plans firmly in place to address further breakouts underway if they occur,” said Fields.
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Morale ‘On the Floor’
Now, the officers say, “morale is on the floor.” When not on the submarine, they say they are sleeping on “World War II-era cots” in “a makeshift building” due to the infestation.
If the Navy is having trouble eliminating bed bugs in a submarine, it doesn’t seem to bode well for the rest of us on land.
Related: These pretty insects are costing Pennsylvania $50M a year and may invade surrounding states
The Bed Bug Plague Amid a Pandemic
Before coronavirus started dominating the news in March, news of the bed bug plague was widespread. According to a survey by Orkin, the nation’s capital is among the most heavily infested places in the country.
An estimated one in five Americans has experienced bed bugs or knows someone who has. If found in homes, the costs to fumigate can top a thousand dollars, and the pests can survive for a year without feeding. Fortunately, they rarely transmit disease, reports the Times. However, just knowing they are present can cause psychological trauma and disturb sleep regularly.
For example, New York City issued restrictions on mattress disposal to try to curb their spread. However, the Times reported that travel reductions due to COVID-19 could help curtail the spread of bed bugs. On the other hand, the pandemic has also reportedly slowed down investment in new technologies such as AI bed bug traps for hotels.
Post-pandemic, the bed bug plague is ready to creep back into to the headlines.
More about bed bugs from SciShow below:
Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube with USS Connecticut via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain