Do Bed Bugs Carry Diseases?

Of all the insects that are common household pests, bed bugs seem to be the ones that are the subject of the most myths and misunderstandings.  Perhaps the concern about disease emanates from the fact that  the very nature of the bed bug – as the insect’s common name indeed suggests – is to infest our sleeping accommodations.  This means that the insects are potentially in close proximity to us for many hours out of each 24 hour cycle.  There is no doubt that this fact can lead to a distinctive “ick” factor that may cue the fear of disease.

But They Bite!

Another reason why we may fear disease transmission from bed bugs may emanate from the fact that these insects do in fact leave bites behind.  This is a natural part of the feeding cycle for the bugs – they thrive on the blood from warm-blooded organisms such as humans as well as cats, dogs, mice, and even hamsters.

We are used to assuming that insect bites are a vector – the scientific term for a disease pathway.  Certainly mosquito bites can transmit a number of diseases including yellow fever and malaria.  Lyme’s disease is caused by the bite of a common field tick.  It only seems logical to assume that if we are being bitten by an insect, disease transmission is a distinct possibility.

In the case of bed bugs, however, their bites do not in fact transmit any diseases to humans.  In medical parlance, the bite of a bed bug is not a direct vector.  This conclusion is based not only on the experience of generations of bite sufferers, but also on official scientific research conducted by the World Health Organization, an august body by any standard.

Then Why are Bites a Problem?

In short, bed bug bites are considered a problem because they are highly uncomfortable even though they will not literally make you sick.  In order to draw out blood, the bed bug will inject into the bite a small amount of a chemical it naturally secretes.  This causes the blood to flow better, which is of course a good circumstance from the point of view of the bug in question.

The chemical, however, is not so advantageous for the humans who suffer the bite.  It causes the bite to develop a low level irritation and take on the appearance of a tiny welt, becoming red and swollen.  Usually these effects occur only to a small degree.  However, some people are more sensitive than others to the chemical secretion of the bed bug; they may experience higher levels of discomfort and even pain at the bite sites.

The best treatment for a bed bit is to wash it with soapy water, rinsing thoroughly before applying ice, an antihistamine cream product, or both.

It turns out, then, that bed bug bites do not directly (in most cases) translate disease.  They are however uncomfortable enough that those who suffer from an infestation will want to make sure to have it eradicated as rapidly as possible.

But Wait!

Now, traditionally, bed bugs do not carry disease. But there may be SOME cases where they can carry infectious bacteria on their bodies which may spread to humans, especially in over crowded areas. Notably, there was a recent study done by a group of Canadian scientists that did show bed bugs have been linked to the carrying of MRSA (bacteria associated with Staph Infections).

Comments

  1. John V says

    In 2005-2010 I had a real battle with bed bugs. My apartment in Seattle had bedbugs. The bugs got worse, I bombed 3 times, then I called the city of Seattle and they came out and got 3 bugs. The landlord found out gave me a 3 day vacate notice. He was fined for retaliation. I vacated and 1800 got sent to collections. Landlord paid my power bill before it was due and trid to sue me for it. I got seasol and won my battle for 1800 not to be sent to collections. Landlord was a momster, trespassed with no notice on thanksgiving. sprayed a lot of raid, and told me not to eat over my bed. Bedbugs made me sick, candy cane bite marks for Christmas. I put pots and pans of water around my table legs, with air mattress for sleeping and still got bit {ceiling}. I had rashes, raised skin bloches and after taking a lot of Benedrill I went into shock, barley made it to Hospital ware I received a Benadrill 3 drip and prednezone. I slept in a mummy bag and pulled the top tight only to end up getting bitten in the eyeball. It made a nasty black-red dot, swollen eyelids and bites near my ear.The doctors say no itch[n, but it is impossible not to. I slept in my truck on the street, that did not help and car. The laundry mat up the street had bugs too. The hot on the washers were not hot enough to kill the bugs, nor were the dryers. I encurred a lot of psychological damage. I had to flush ny little red tail shark down the toilet. Lost every thing I own, gone caver tower speakers, all books, most clothes, furniture, rugs, tv and cpu. All. Well, I left and moved into a Dolphin Rv on the south side of Seattle and In 5 days I got hit and run while I was riding my bike by an 56 yrs ole man on oxycodone. Blew the tires and ran from the van but a Honerable Marine caught him.I broke 10 ribes was out for an hour from concussion and to this day always have cronic shoulder pain, but I don’t take pills. I have to live by myself with a lot of ups and downs. -John V

      • John V says

        Yes, I was able to get rid of the bugs. I was very concerned and worried I would bring them with with me when I moved out, so I bagged and tied what clothes I had left and carefully washed the clothes twice and dried of high for a long time. Seasol in Seattle really helped me fence off the landlord for 1800 in damages that were bogus. I actually had a new stove and fridge put in the apt while I lived there and rugs put down. I power washed every 6 months to keep the apartments clean too, to no avail. Apt conditions +bedbugs -When an apt unit is old, you can’t keep it safe -Lap n plaster, cracks in the floorboards {with carpet over it}, knob n tube electrical -electrical outlets with unsealed plates. All factors in trying to keep bugs out of your place. Seasol changed me. I try and help Seasol with their fights. Some are BB fights. I turned to Seasol for help, received a lot mutual aid for my situation, won and now I still support Seasol when I can. Sincerely -John V

        • admin says

          Good to hear your story. When it comes to bed bugs infecting apartments, it’s usually the tenet who loses out and ends up having to either live with a chronic bed bug problem, eventually moving out or pay heavy costs for a pest control company. Landlords won’t usually eat the cost of removing bed bugs. That’s awesome you managed to not only DIY remove the bed bugs, but also take your landlord for damages!

    • Ruby Bristow says

      That is a crazy amount of bedbugs. They must’ve been there for a long, long time before you arrived. I got bedbugs from a second hand mattress that my husband bought, several years ago. The mattress was beautiful, no sign of infestation, at all. However, within two days, I looked like I had the chicken pox, but only on areas of skin where my pajamas didn’t cover. My husband seemed to suffer no effects, but I have sensitive skin. We found the bedbugs in short order. We tried for two weeks to get rid of them with pesticides; to no avail. To prevent them spreading further in the house we just had to get rid of the mattress. We were out 150 dollars. I suggested that we spray paint the word bedbugs across it and prop it up against the door of the guy that sold it to us, but my husband is a kinder soul than I. Instead, we spray painted bedbugs across it and took it to the dump. We never had any more problems and that was about nine years ago.

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