EPA warns of health effects of bedbug treatments

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday is warning consumers that bedbug-battling pesticides, applied improperly, could make consumers' homes unlivable.

"Using the wrong pesticide or using it incorrectly to treat for bedbugs can make you, your family, and your pets sick," the EPA said in a consumer alert. "It can also make your home unsafe to live in — and may not solve the bedbug problem."

With bedbug infestations on the rise in urban centers around the country, more and more consumers are reaching out to extermination companies for relief. That's led to a subsequent rise in the number of those companies, which don't always apply their chemicals correctly, EPA warns. 

In fact, the agency suggests consumers should avoid chemical solutions altogether. 

"Prevention and non-chemical treatment of infestations is the best way to avoid or eliminate a bedbug problem," EPA suggests.

Examples of preventative measures, the agency says, include frequent vacuuming, filling wall cracks and wrapping mattresses in bedbug-proof covers.

If consumers are intent on going the pesticide route, EPA says, they should first:

• Make sure the chemical is approved for fighting bedbugs. "If bedbugs are not listed on the label, the pesticide has not been tested for bedbugs and it may not be effective."

• Check that the pesticide has EPA approval. "Any pesticide product label without an EPA registration number has not been reviewed by EPA to determine how well the product works."

• Make sure the chemical is designed for use indoors. 

The consumer alert comes less than a week after the EPA joined forces with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to highlight the public health dangers surrounding the "alarming resurgence" of bedbug infestations in recent years.

"Many people have mild to severe allergic reaction to the bites with effects ranging from no reaction to a small bite mark to, in rare cases, anaphylaxis (severe, whole-body reaction)," the agencies wrote. "These bites can also lead to secondary infections of the skin such as impetigo, ecthyma, and lymphanigitis. Bed bugs may also affect the mental health of people living in infested homes. Reported effects include anxiety, insomnia and systemic reactions."