Bedbugs Return to South Korea

The 1960s are back.

Bedbugs Return to South Korea

Image: Keimyung University online bulletin board post complaining of bedbug infestation. Credit: Keimyung University.

For decades, South Korea has been a bedbug-free zone. In its drive to modernize the country, the Park Chung-hee 박정희 dictatorship wiped out common pests like lice and bedbugs with generous doses of DDT. It is not yet clear what long-term effects the toxic pesticides will have on public health: as recently as 2009, 38 years after South Korea banned the use of DDT, the substance remained measurable in more than 20% of Koreans. On the bright side, the pesticide did its job: from the 1970s on,  South Korea has not seen a single bedbug infestation.

It was a good run while it lasted. With a “global resurgence” of bedbugs, particularly in France, South Korea is also seeing clusters of bedbug infestations around the country. In September, Keimyung University 계명대학교 in Daegu 대구 made the news after a bedbug infestation in its dorms forced the school to implement a campus-wide pest extermination campaign. Bedbugs have since appeared in Incheon 인천 and Seoul, particularly in motels, saunas and low-income housing.

Authorities were quick to claim that the bedbugs must have come from abroad. Keimyung University officials noted that the infestation was traced back to a dorm room a British study-abroad student had stayed. Pest control companies, however, say the recent outbreaks likely reflect the return of bedbug species native to Korea, as the bedbugs detected in Korea are not the types that are bedeviling Europe. 

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