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Anecdotes from the Archive

Anecdotes from the Archive: Bed bugs are vintage, and vintage is in

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According to the June 1924 issue, bed bugs weren’t always considered to be a pest worthy of professional extermination. It wasn’t until scientists warned the bugs were “dangerous” for having the potential to spread diseases such as typhoid fever and influenza that the little guys were able to produce feelings of fear and despair in city-dwellers.

"Today [1924], not even nice people escape the bed bug. He may turn up in the most carefully kept homes. His presence is not a reproach, but a danger signal."

People, nice or otherwise, demanded the extermination of bed bugs using the most potent way they knew how—poison gas. While this proved a solution to getting rid of the bugs, it had some grave consequences:

"In the fumigation of homes, business premises, and ships, people are occasionally killed accidentally—occupants not known to be in the infested area, or sometimes adjoining premises, and even exterminators caught off guard."

Thankfully, we no longer have to choose between typhoid fever and death when it comes to bed bugs…at least I would assume so because the guy who came to spray chemicals in my apartment (yes, it’s true, even nice people like me can’t escape them) did not look at all like this:

 

 

About the Author: Mary Karmelek is a production assistant for Nature Publishing Group and is currently working on Scientific American's Digital Archive Project, where she spends countless hours scouring articles and ads of decades long ago. She graduated with her M.A. in English from Fordham University in 2010 and currently resides in New York City. While her educational background is in gender and war trauma in modernist literature, Mary also has a keen interest in the historical and visual documentation of science, nature, and medicine.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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