Two common drugs used by veterinarians to control parasites could be effective against bed bugs, with one showing particularly strong potential, according to a new North Carolina State University study examining the drugs linked to controlling resurgent bed bug populations on poultry farms examined.
Fluralaner and ivermectin, which are used to kill fleas and ticks on pets like dogs and cats, among other things, were tested for their effectiveness in killing bed bugs. In a collaboration between entomologists and veterinary scientists at NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, researchers tested bed bug mortality rates in separate experiments: after the pests had consumed blood mixed with the drugs on the lab bench, and after bed bugs had bitten and fed chickens either ingested or topically with it been treated with the medication.
Fluralaner is a relatively new, longer-lasting antiparasitic used primarily on pets. However, Europe and Australia have approved its use for the poultry industry. In addition to domestic use, ivermectin has effective antiparasitic uses in human populations, particularly in Africa, as well as in larger animals.
Both drugs showed strong efficacy on the lab bench, killing most bed bugs, although fluralaner was much more effective on bed bugs that showed resistance to common insecticides.
“The drugs affect receptors in the insect’s nervous system,” said Coby Schal, Blanton J. Whitmire Distinguished Professor of Entomology at NC State and corresponding author of an article describing the work.
Fluralener was highly effective at killing bed bugs that fed on chickens given the drug. Ivermectin, on the other hand, was ineffective against bed bugs feeding on dosed chickens.
“We used the recommended dosage of ivermectin, either topical or ingested, but neither were able to kill bed bugs,” said Maria González-Morales, a former Ph.D. Student at NC State and first author of the work.
The researchers say chickens could rapidly metabolize or clear ivermectin from their system.
“The bed bug is an important insect worldwide,” said Schal. “The last few decades have seen a resurgence of bed bugs in households and now we are seeing bed bugs returning to poultry farms. As there is no proven method to stop bed bugs in commercial farms, the potential problems in poultry farms could be massive. We try to be one step ahead by developing technologies that can eliminate bed bugs.”
“The health effects of bed bug infestations on poultry are not well documented, but occasionally poultry farmers see welfare concerns such as stress and anemia that could negatively impact meat or egg production,” González-Morales said.
“There are also concerns for workers on these farms given how easily bed bugs can be transmitted from poultry to humans,” Schal added.
According to the researchers, dosing fluralaner in the drinking water of poultry could be an effective measure against bed bugs. A combination of surveillance, reconnaissance, heat treatments and fluralans could be the key to eradicating bed bugs from infested poultry farms, they add.
The study appears in Parasites & Vectors. Andrea E. Thomson, Olivia A. Petritz, Rocio Crespo, Ahmed Haija, Richard G. Santangelo co-authored the paper. Funding was provided by the Blanton J. Whitmire Endowment of the State of NC, as well as grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Healthy Homes program (NCHHU0053-19) and the National Science Foundation (DEB-1754190).
Source: North Carolina State University