Human Skin Triglycerides Repel Bed Bugs, Study Shows

Bed bugs (insect) are blood-sucking insects that live in close proximity to humans. They have spread around the world and have become one of the most difficult pests to control indoors. They are nocturnal and use several sensory cues to recognize and orientate towards their human hosts. After ingesting food, usually on a sleeping person, they return to a shelter on or around the sleeping area, but not directly on the host. Dr. Zach DeVries and colleagues at the University of Kentucky hypothesized that while human skin odors attract hungry bed bugs, human skin compounds can also prevent host attachment.

Gaire et al.  show that substrates conditioned by human skin or treated with compounds from human skin can prevent bed bug control.  Photo credit: CDC / World Health Organization.

Gaire et al. show that substrates conditioned by human skin or treated with compounds from human skin can prevent bed bug control. Photo credit: CDC / World Health Organization.

“We already knew that body odor, carbon dioxide and heat attract bed bugs to feed on people,” said Dr. DeVries.

“Our latest research shows that the reason they don’t stay on humans like other pests like lice is due to lipids or triglycerides in our skin, causing them to leave their hosts and settle in nearby places like beds and hide mattresses. “

In the study, Dr. DeVries and co-authors shared their latest findings by rubbing a strip of filter paper on the participants’ skin to collect samples.

They also tested the theory on multiple populations of bed bugs raised in the laboratory and collected in the field.

“Our results were consistent for all triglyceride types, all participant groups, and all bed bug populations,” said Dr. DeVries.

“Bed bugs almost always preferred the control filter strip to the one with skin triglycerides.”

“The bed bugs don’t like to sit on skin triglycerides and refuse to stay on surfaces that contain triglycerides,” said Dr. Sudip Gaire, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Kentucky.

“We have achieved tremendous results by using only a small amount of triglycerides.”

While more research is needed to find out why bed bugs dislike the triglycerides and whether there are other potential bed bug repellants in human skin, the authors think this could be an important start to more effective bed bug control.

“Our results can offer several potential management options,” said Dr. DeVries.

“Our results could possibly be used to deter bed bugs from hitchhiking on people’s belongings and thus reduce their spread.”

The study was published in the journal Scientific reports.

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S. Gaire et al. 2021. Human skin triglycerides prevent bed bugs (insect L.) Arrest. Science Representative 11, 22906; doi: 10.1038 / s41598-021-01981-1

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