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Bed Bugs Found Carrying Disease

Bed Bugs Found Carrying Disease

For the first time it has been shown that bed bugs carry infectious diseases. A report to be published in a prestigious medical journal describes how doctors isolated so called ‘superbugs’ from bed bugs found on hospital patients. If this result and the transmission of disease via bed bug blood feeds is confirmed, it makes the worldwide resurgence of bed bugs an even more serious matter than previously thought.

Bed bugs have been increasing in numbers in New Zealand as well as all over the world. The increase in travel, the poor use of insecticides and a general ignorance of how to control them has been blamed. That they could also be vectors of disease is of concern.

Bed bugs have hit the headlines this year with infestations closing public buildings and famous stores in New York, bad experiences for tourists staying in infested hotels and motels, and most recently the possibility that overzealous use of inappropriate insecticide to control of bed bugs may be implicated in the tragic death of Kiwi Sarah Carter in Thailand.

Bed bugs have until now been regarded as a nuisance pest; causing itchy bites and revulsion, but there has been no evidence that they transmit disease despite their habit of taking blood feeds from humans and animals. The report by Canadian Doctors in the journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases does not demonstrate transmission of disease, it does, however, raise the possibility that bed bugs could transmit disease causing organisms from one person to another via blood and puncture wounds.

The patients in the study came from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside – an impoverished community with high rates of homelessness, poverty, HIV/AIDS, and injection drug use. While it has not yet been demonstrated that bed bugs transmit disease organisms during their blood feed, if the results of the study are confirmed it suggests that disease transmission may be possible and there will certainly be an increase in research looking for evidence of disease spread by bed bugs.

The news that there may be a risk of bed bugs transmitting disease must be of concern to us all. That bed bugs have been shown to carry the ‘superbugs’ methicillin-resistant Staphlococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resitant Enterococcus faecium (VRE) is of particular concern where these difficult to treat bacteria are common. While not found in this study it may be assumed that other disease organisms could also be carried by bed bugs.

The increase in bed bug numbers in New Zealand and around the world combined with evidence that they can carry disease should make us all more vigilant. It is possible to reduce the risks of encountering and carrying bed bugs from place to place. The New Zealand pest control product manufacturer Kiwicare provides advice on their website on how to identify bed bugs, how to prevent picking them up in luggage during travel and how to get rid of them.

David Brittain, Technical Support Manager at Kiwicare says, “We should take the news that bed bugs may carry disease seriously. But it seems likely that because there has never been any epidemiological evidence found linking bed bugs with disease outbreaks any transmission of disease is rare.”

It makes sense to try to prevent the spread of bed bugs and Kiwicare is in the forefront of helping to advise New Zealanders on their control and providing safe and effective products. The knowledge of what to look for and how to use bed bug control products will help us all in the battle against this re-emerging pest and the disease they may transmit.


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