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Bed Bugs and Human Health

About the only good thing that can be said about bed bugs in America is that as of this writing (in June of 2016), they are not believed to transmit disease. According to the CDC:

"Bed bugs should not be considered as a medical or public health hazard. Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bugs can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection." (Click here to read the rest.)

Picture of a person's back and arm covered with bed bug bites

I like the CDC. They're a great outfit and they undoubtedly save many lives. But to call bed bug bites an "annoyance" is a bit of an understatement, as we can see from this picture. This person obviously had quite an active bed bug infestation in his home. I don't imagine he got much sleep.

In addition, there are people who are allergic to bed bugs. The allergies may be to the bites or to their droppings and shed skins. Allergic reactions to bed bug bites can be life-threatening and require immediate medical care.

Bed bug infestations (as well as the loss of sleep that they cause) can also lead to anxiety, inability to concentrate, an increased risk of accidents, shame, revulsion, and other social and psychological problems. I mean, let's face it, just going to bed every night knowing that there are insects waiting to eat you is pretty gross.

Coupled with the chronic sleep deprivation and the itching that the bites cause during the day, bed bugs can seriously affect your overall well-being in a way that most people don't understand unless they've been through it. But unless you're allergic to them, doctors tell us that they won't make you sick. Miserable perhaps, but not sick.

Bed Bugs and MRSA / VRE

A few years ago, a study in Vancouver, British Columbia suggested that bed bugs might have the ability to transmit methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE). The study got quite a bit of media coverage. Unfortunately, it was widely sensationalized and exaggerated.

The study's authors never stated that bed bugs could definitely transmit either disease. They just noted that there was a higher correlation of MRSA and VRE in populations where bed bugs were more prevalent, particularly homeless shelters. The authors also acknowledged the the bed bugs' contribution might have been limited to allowing the pathogens to enter the skin through the puncture wounds, not direct transmission of the disease.

In the end, the authors suggested that more research was needed to determine whether there was a causal link between bed bugs and the transmission of MRSA and VRE. Further research did not confirm the authors' concerns; and at this time, the medical consensus is that bed bugs do not transmit MRSA, VRE, or any other diseases including HIV, AIDS, or hepatitis.

In summary, as far as we know, for most people, bed bug cause nothing more than a really bad rash that can be treated using the anti-itch ointment of your choice. Unless you are allergic to bed bugs or their bites, doctors believe that the rash, loss of sleep, and general misery caused by the bites are the worst health risks that you have to worry about. Hopefully you'll at least sleep a bit better knowing that.

The gray-bearded author outdoors with a small wild bird on his shoulder and a Buy Me a Coffee tip link