A forgotten old nursery rhyme is having more meaning for Americans these days. "Sleep tight. Don't let the bedbugs bite." But they are biting in all 50 states as they haven't bitten since the 1940s, say pest control companies, scientists and health officials. And, indeed, it is making sleep more difficult for Americans of all walks of life -- from denizens of homeless shelters to those visiting the swankiest five-star hotels. Outbreaks of bedbug infestations have been reported from coast to coast, north and south and among rich and poor.
Experts attribute the plague largely to two factors: increased travel and the banning of DDT and other effective pesticides that virtually wiped out "Cimex lectularious," the Latin name for the pest. A November newsletter from Doctors for Disaster Preparedness made the link between the rise of bedbug infestations and the U.S. banning in 1972 of the potent pesticide DDT. "No chemical in history has saved more lives than DDT, and few if any have a better safety record," the organization decried. Dozens of other experts made the connection with DDT and increased travel. The banning of DDT has also been linked worldwide to the major increase in malaria, which annually took the lives of millions before DDT nearly wiped out the mosquito-borne plague. Many countries have reintroduced the use of DDT to fight malaria.