Entomologists battle bed bugs

Dini Miller and Molly Stedfast

Professor Dini Miller, left, and master’s student Molly Stedfast are studying bed bugs and teaching people how to manage infestations in homes and businesses.

By Allison Hedrick

Insecticides of the 20th century nearly eradicated bed bugs, but since 2000 they’ve returned with a vengeance. Their re-emergence has made managing and preventing them a challenge.

“Because they are so highly resistant to the pesticides we use for their control, they are spreading faster than ever,” said Dini Miller, urban pest management specialist for Virginia Cooperative Extension and associate professor of entomology.

Miller’s team focuses on the bed bug problem in multiunit housing complexes, particularly where tenants have limited resources.

Molly Stedfast, an entomology master’s student who works with Miller, teaches apartment dwellers to recognize bed bug infestations and to safely use easy, inexpensive, nonchemical methods to better protect themselves and their homes.

Stedfast also trains apartment employees how to apply diatomaceous earth — a nontoxic dust made from fossilized remains of diatoms, a hard-shelled algae — to the inside perimeter of apartments. When bed bugs walk through the dust, it clings to their exoskeleton, absorbing their wax layer and causing them to die of dehydration.  Stedfast said it is rewarding to have helped people from Richmond to New Orleans with bed bugs.

“Most grad students don’t get to see their research actually help people face to face,” she said. “I feel like I’m making an impact.”