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Pyrethroid-resistant Bed Bugs Lay Fewer Eggs when Exposed to ActiveGuard

Products that claim to control bed bugs have been on the market for years. Some work, and some don’t.

Dr. Susan Jones, a professor of entomology at Ohio State University, knows this as well as anyone, after having tested many such products for years. While there have been some flops in the past, she and her colleagues have found one that looks promising as a new tool for bed bug control programs. The results of their research are published in an article in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Mattress liners sold under the trade name ActiveGuard are impregnated with an insecticide called permethrin, which is considered safe for humans and other mammals. Permethrin — which belongs to a class of pesticides called pyrethroids — is found in medical creams to treat scabies, shampoos for head lice, and it’s the active ingredient in some flea-control products for dogs and cats.

In recent years, however, some bed bug populations have developed resistance to some pyrethroids and related pesticides, making them less lethal. But for Jones and her team, killing bed bugs is only one part in the effort to control them.

“Death doesn’t have to be the end-point that we measure in studies,” Dr. Jones said. “Physical or behavioral changes can significantly affect the impact of bed bugs before death even occurs.”

One of these things is fecundity — the bed bugs’ ability to lay eggs and reproduce. In order to lay eggs, female bed bugs must first have a bloodmeal, so the Ohio researchers set out to test ActiveGuard’s effects on bed bug feeding.

“Feeding in bed bugs and fecundity are very tightly coupled,” Jones said. “If a female bed bug doesn’t feed, then she is unlikely to lay eggs, and if she doesn’t lay eggs, then the life cycle is interrupted.”

Surprisingly, they found the ActiveGuard fabric to be extremely effective, even in bed bug populations that were resistant to pyrethroids. Bed bugs that were exposed to the fabric for ten minutes were significantly less likely to even attempt feeding compared to those on untreated fabric, and the majority were unable to feed successfully. Even when they were successful, their bloodmeals were only half the size of bed bugs that were not exposed to the fabric.

Even more surprising, out of 52 females tested, only one laid a single egg.

“We were totally shocked, and we were also shocked by how quickly we started seeing these sublethal effects,” Jones said. “After just one minute of being on the fabric, their probing behavior was reduced, and by ten minutes they just weren’t feeding much. If a female bed bug doesn’t feed, she doesn’t lay eggs.”

The researchers do not yet know how or why the ActiveGuard fabric affects female bed bug feeding and fecundity — it may disorient or irritate them, but at this point that is only speculation.

“We are still trying to figure out what is going on,” Jones said. “That will be a future paper.”

Previous research by Dr. Jones showed that ActiveGuard was very effective at killing some bed bug populations, but was less so with ones that were resistant to pyrethroids. The results of this study suggest that even sublethal exposure can have far-reaching consequences.

Read more at:

Sublethal Effects of ActiveGuard Exposure on Feeding Behavior and Fecundity of the Bed Bug (Hemiptera: Cimicidae)


  1. Would sheets and blankets placed over the ActiveGuard mattress liner prevent exposure of the bugs to the permethrin?

    • Eric, the mattress and box spring are among the many sites where bed bugs like to hide. In early (beginning) infestations, bed bugs often are found hiding in the box spring before they are found on the mattress. Bed bugs seek harborage in the box spring, often in the void under the fabric cover, or mattress, most typically in folds, nooks, crannies, button tufts and rips. Bed bugs rarely seek harborage on the surface of sheet or blankets, probably because they avoid sites that are exposed and frequently disturbed. When ActiveGuard is installed on the mattress and/or box spring, it becomes the new surface where bed bugs can hide. While there is no guarantee that the bed bug will contact the permethrin-impregnated fabric prior to seeking a blood meal, ultimately the bug is likely to contact the fabric while finding harborage on either the mattress or box spring.

  2. The salient point of this article is the fact that the positive effects of the bed cover activeguard is causing a chronic infestation. This is happening because of the smell associated with pesticides. The smell interrupts their only instinct which is based upon smell. They then do two things 1) start hitchhiking and 2) hibernating ensuring a chronic problem far into the future.

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