Over-the-counter bedbug treatments, as a 2012 study discovered, are effectively worthless. Most of the time, they fail to reach the bugs, which are burrowed deep in the folds of mattresses and rugs—and even when they do, many of the bloodsuckers have built up an immunity to common household insecticides.
So what’s a person to do in the face of an infestation? Call an exterminator. Freak out. Fight, or give into, the urge to set fire to all belongings.
For the past five years, though, Regine Gries has done none of these things; instead, she has welcomed the bedbugs—thousands of them—onto her skin for a blood feast.
Gries, a biologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada, has endured 18,000 bug bites in the quest to build a more effective bedbug remedy—and as she and a team of researchers explain in a paper recently published in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, they believe they’ve finally discovered the chemicals that will allow them to do just that.
Bedbugs were considered more or less a non-problem through much of the later 20th century, kept at bay with strong pesticides. In recent years, though, bedbug infestations—and, consequently, bedbug hysteria—have made a comeback. (Scientists have also discovered that the bugs may carry the parasite that causes Chagas disease, though they have yet to study their ability to spread the disease itself.)