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How a Pill Could Battle Bed Bugs



Could swallowing a deworming pill help people kill bedbugs? That’s what an emergency medical specialist has been researching. The New York Times reports that Dr. Johnathan M. Sheele recently presented a study at a medical conference about how ivermectin, a medication used to treat heartworm in dogs and worms, scabies, and river blindness in people, can also potentially kill bed bugs.

How ivermectin would work on bed bugs

Here’s how the pill, prescribed to humans under the name Stromectol, could work to eliminate bed bugs. A human who has bed bugs in his or her home would take the pill, go to sleep, and let the bed bugs bite them. Several days later, the bed bugs would die, due to the effects of the pill. This biological effect is known as xenointoxication, which means “poisoning the guest.”

The Times says that in Dr. Sheele’s research, 60 percent of the bed bugs died after the four human guinea pigs in the study took just one pill. It could be that more bed bugs could die with bigger or additional doses. But the drug is safe for humans to take; it fights what is called a “gated chloride channel” in bugs that are not in humans.

What others say about the research

While Dr. Sheele cautioned that his study is preliminary and that the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of ivermectin for bed bugs, others say that he might be onto something.

Dr. Frank O. Richards Jr., who works as a parasitologist who has been involved in using ivermectin to combat river blindness, told the Times he was “excited to see how this plays out,” although he acknowledged that people in the U.S. might be freaked out by taking a deworming pill.

And Dr. Peter J. Hotez, who is the dean of Baylor College of Medicine’s National School of Tropical Medicine, told the Times the idea wasn’t crazy. “Maybe partially crazy,” he said.  “But not entirely crazy.”

The pill could be used in combination with other anti-bed bug efforts

Dr. Sheele said that the deworming pill could be used to combat bed bugs along with other efforts to combat the bugs, such as heat treatment and mattress covers. He said that he became interested in the subject after working in an emergency room and treating those who had been bitten by bed bugs. “I even had one patient come in with a baggie full of them,” Dr. Sheele told the Times. “As a physician, there’s nothing you can do for them except giving them Benadryl and steroids for the itching.” He is now hoping to do a full-fledged study on the use of ivermectin to kill the bed bugs.

In the meantime, bed bugs specialists are still the best way to get rid of bed bugs.