Bed Bugs and Human Health

Bed bug bites on someone's lower legs

Until recently, bed bugs were not believed to transmit serious diseases. Nowadays, some scientists aren't so sure.

As is the case with most parasites, in theory, there has always been the possibility that bed bugs could transmit disease. But there was never any solid evidence that bed bugs actually were disease vectors. Their health significance was believed to be limited to localized pain and sometimes-serious rashes that could be aggravated by scratching, exposing the patient to the possibility of infection; and the psychological and emotional trauma caused by knowing that something is, well, eating you while you try to sleep.

That assumption lasted until 2011, when Canadian researchers completed a study that found the causative bacteria for two serious diseases in the bodies of bed bugs plucked from patients in two urban hospitals.

Bedbugs and MRSA and VRE

Small abscess on a man's back caused by MRSA

One of the bacteria recovered by the Canadian researchers was the methicillin-resistant form of Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), commonly known as "flesh-eating bacteria." The other bacteria was the vancomycin-resistant form of Enterococcus faecium (VRE), which can cause infections of the urinary tract, the bloodstream, or surgical wounds.

Both of these diseases are usually acquired in health care settings, but also occur from time to time in homeless shelters, prisons, rescue missions, or other environments where people live in crowded conditions with less-than-wonderful sanitation.

It's important to note that the Canadian study doesn't conclusively prove that bed bugs actually transmit either MRSA or VRE. It does prove that they can harbor the bacteria in their bodes, however, and suggests the possibility that they may be able to transmit the diseases. The researchers themselves concluded only that "Bedbugs carrying MRSA and/or VRE may have the potential to act as vectors for transmission," and recommended further study into the association between bed bugs and the diseases.

Bed Bugs and Hepatitis B

It has long been known that the virus that causes hepatitis B (HVB) can survive in bed bugs for as long as six weeks after they feed on the blood of an infected person, and can be found in the bed bugs' fecal droppings, as well. A study conducted in South Africa in 1978 found the virus in 30.6 percent of the bed bugs collected in an area with high rates of HVB infection, suggesting the possibility that bed bugs can transmit HVB.

Subsequent studies, however, have never been able to confirm the transmission of HVB by bed bugs. In a 1991 study in South Africa, researchers were unable to intentionally infect chimpanzees with HVB by using bed bugs known to be carrying the virus. Another study in Gambia in 1996 essentially eradicated bed bugs from seven villages, but produced no reduction in HVB infection rates.

Summary

Long story short: Experts simply aren't sure whether or not bed bugs transmit diseases. The current state of medical and entomological research suggest only the possibility that bed bugs might be able to transmit MRSA, VRE, and HVB. There's still no solid evidence that bed bugs actually do transmit these or other serious diseases.

On the other hand, we do know as fact that bed bugs inflict painful bites and cause serious rashes that can become infected. We also know that a small percentage of people can suffer allergic reactions from bed bugs. And finally, we know that bed bugs are gross and cause serious emotional trauma to people living in bed bug-infested homes.

In the end, it comes down to this: If you have a bed bug problem, you need a professional pest control company that specializes in bed bugs to help you get rid of them. In the Greater Dayton area, that would be us. Please contact us for a prompt, professional consultation with a bed bug control expert.