Bed Bugs: Are They a Threat to Your Family’s Health?
The short answer is “maybe.” As with many things, the full answer is a little more complicated than that.
Ultimately, we can’t be certain as yet: studies are being conducted on bed bugs from populations that have recently adapted to so many of our modern industrial pesticides, and human blood-borne diseases are even more adaptable than the bed bugs themselves. Bed bugs are not known to pose a threat to human health, not yet, but as many as 30 or more human blood-borne pathogens survive after being ingested by these parasitic, blood-sucking insects.
Incidental Risks to Human Health from Bed Bug Bites
Here is what we know about bed bugs, in terms of actual risks to human health:
- Bed bug bites inject an anesthetic, and a mild anticoagulant. These chemicals are a part of the bug’s highly evolved saliva, and they allow it to feed—undisturbed, and quickly—on its human victims. Afterward, the bug’s bites produce an itchy, sometimes painful rash, which may be accompanied by hives or other visible swelling. There is the possibility of an allergic reaction to bed bug saliva, resulting in potentially more serious complications.
- Bed bugs cause insomnia. The feeding pattern of bed bugs makes for uncomfortable and restless sleep, and many people find the idea of being fed upon by a horde of tiny insects to be more than a little disturbing. Bed bugs have been documented as causing insomnia, which may endure even after an infestation has been eradicated and all feeding has stopped. In rare instances, individuals have required medication and psychiatric treatment to help recover from their affliction.
More Serious Health Concerns: Blood-Borne Pathogens and Arboviruses
Over the last 3-4 years, experts have begun to explore the fact that bed bugs carry infectious human diseases, by dint of their preferred sustenance: the organisms which give rise to HIV, herpes, every form of hepatitis, MRSA, and other blood pathogens have been found to have survived the feeding process.
With no known cases of bed bugs transmitting these diseases from one person to another, scientists are looking into why that is, given that the microorganisms are already adapted to infect humans. No definitive answer has been provided yet.
Another point of concern are the arboviruses. These are diseases, such as the Zika virus, malaria, dengue, and yellow fever, which are known to be transmitted primarily through the bites of mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and other parasitic insects, arachnids, and arthropods. Here again, there are no recorded cases of these infections being transmitted by bed bugs—but the possibility remains, as the arboviruses are particularly prone to rapid adaptation.
A Persistent Nuisance
Bed bugs are highly adaptable, and they resist most of our efforts to eradicate them. Even many of our best efforts require direct, individual applications to kill the insects, and they are able to lie dormant for extended periods of time. This allows them to relocate quickly to new places, where even a few individual bed bugs can quickly establish a thriving colony. In this way, they have spread all over the world, and can now be found virtually anywhere that people live.
This results in bed bugs being a persistent nuisance across the united states, and all over the rest of the world. Bed bugs cause a considerable amount of economic damage, as traditional extermination services are quite expensive—beyond what many people can afford, particularly if multiple treatments for bed bugs are required (which they often will be).
Loss of sleep is a major contributing factor to depression. Worldwide, events like car accidents, job loss, and suicide spike on Mondays, after a weekend in people didn’t get enough sleep; they are also known to trend in response to sleeplessness caused by other factors, including bed bugs. It is probably unfair to suggest that the insects themselves have a direct and considerable impact on suicide rates and car accidents, but in a culture where “enough sleep” is often a wistful fantasy, they certainly aren’t helping.
Here are a few basic facts about bed bugs, of which you might not be aware:
- Bed bugs live in all 50 states, including Alaska and Hawaii. Elsewhere, they are found just about wherever humans live. To date, there have been no reported cases of bed bugs among the few permanent residents of Antarctica.
- Bed bugs can travel by hiding in clothing, suitcases, luggage, cars, trucks, planes, and trains. They originally came to the New World by boat—on board the Mayflower. They reached Alaska by spreading north through Canada, but likewise reached Hawaii by boat.
- Bed bugs can survive temperatures below the freezing point. They are less adept at surviving high heat: they can’t survive being boiled, but have been known to survive water temperatures of up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Their anesthetic is not a placebo. Bed bugs have actual anesthetic agents in their saliva, along with anticoagulants. Anesthesia deadens local pain impulses, and the anticoagulants prevent blood from immediately clotting in the tiny wounds they inflict.
- Bed bugs are naturally attracted to humans. Bed bugs can sense body heat, and can also pick up on carbon dioxide emissions. They can figure out whether or not there are people in a building from outside of the building, and can tell a sleeping person apart from an active one.
- Bed bugs have natural predators, which will likewise enter your home. Cockroaches, spiders, ants, and centipedes are all among the creatures which prey on bed bugs in nature. If you have a bed bug infestation in your home, their natural predators will be drawn to the food source.
- Bed bugs use multiple pheromones for reproduction and territorial defense. Male bed bug pheromones serve as scent markers, denoting territory and warding off rival males. These are also used to attract female bed bugs. Once a colony has a foothold in your home, the males will send out pheromones to bring in more bugs.
- Bed bugs have accompanied migratory human populations for thousands of years. There are cave paintings, depicting what may be parasitic insects, which are 20,000 years old or more. These are located in the Middle East—the right part of the world relative to where modern bed bugs first arose.
- Bed bugs were written about thousands of years ago, with indirect earlier accounts. The ancient Greeks present the earliest known accounts of bed bugs being a current issue as of their writing; these accounts date to approximately 400 BC, long before the time of Alexander and before the rise of Rome. There are written accounts of bed bugs as having been a past problem which go back even further, suggesting bed bugs were in eastern Europe five to six thousand years ago.
An Uncertain Future
Scientists are hard at work developing new means of fighting bed bugs. While their potential as a health risk is uncertain, it seems clear that they are a costly and uncomfortable problem the world over, and have been so for thousands of years. With modern pesticides proving largely ineffective without direct application, as well as being extremely toxic to people, all-natural plant-based products like Bed Bug Bully are getting a serious second look. Please review the links below, if you would like to learn more about how to get rid of bed bugs.