Until recently, researchers and medical experts agreed and found no evidence that supported the fear that many people had that bed bugs carry disease. Many people have gone to the hospital that were sick and had bed bugs, but there was never a confirmed connection between the disease and the bugs themselves.
New research, done by the University of Pennsylvania has confirmed that bed bugs can in fact spread disease, at least in mice. Specifically, Chagas disease.
Chagas disease isn’t a well known disease, especially in the United States, but kills more than 50,000 people worldwide each year. Chagas disease is caused by parasitic protozoan that slowly attack internal organs, the heart in particular. Initially, there are no symptoms. About 20 years later, approximately 20 percent of people suddenly develop very serious symptoms that often result in death. Chagas disease is the most deadly parasites in the world, but the majority of people have never heard of it.
Chagas disease is primarily spread by “Kissing Bugs”, which generally feed on people and animals at night, similar to bed bugs. Kissing bugs don’t spread the disease through biting people though, the disease is spread through their feces which is often left on human victims. If the feces gets into cuts in the skin, it can spread the Chagas disease parasite. The parasite can also enter the body though the mouth and eyes and genitals.
Most people have never heard of Chagas Disease and Kissing Bugs because Kissing bugs, unlike bed bugs, have difficulty getting into well constructed buildings. This is why the disease is so uncommon in America and other more developed countries.
Chagas and Bed Bugs
But, with the recent surge in bed bug reports and cases, and the recent proof that bed bugs can spread Chagas Disease, we could have a problem. Even worse? We wouldn’t know it, due to the disease taking so long to show signs. Given bed bugs can spread the parasite in mice, it’s expected that it could be spread in other mammals, including humans.
Studies have shown that bed bugs also generally defecate (aka “poop”) after feeding, and often on human victims, increasing the risk of infection. This is of particular concern to researchers, given the increasing relationship bed bugs are having with humans. Many infestations cause humans to be bit numerous times each night.
A really creepy example of how humans can be infected involves babies. Baby beds can be infested with bed bugs. Let’s say a babies bed is infested, and the baby drops their pacifier during the night and puts in back in their mouth later. If the bed has bed bug feces on it, and it comes into contact with the pacifier, that’s a possible route for infection.
What can you do to protect yourself?
While most experts agree that this finding is concerning, most agree that it’s not catastrophic either, at least not yet. The only real thing you can do is avoid being infested with bed bugs. That is done by performing frequent checks for bed bugs and being proactive about putting protection measures in place. If you find that you do have bed bugs, begin the treatment process immediately, and follow up with frequent inspections for bed bugs.