4 reasons not to ignore signs of bed bugs

An infestation can carry real risks

Signs of a bed bug infestation are visible on this bed’s box springs. The owners initially missed the spot, noting it had been “covered up by our bedskirt, fitted sheet, and mattress pad.”

lauren/Flickr/(CC BY-NC 2.0)

Most people find bed bugs gross. Dealing with the pests can be a real nuisance, too. But ignoring an infestation could make efforts to eventually evict the bugs only harder. Much harder. Any delay also could put your physical or mental health at risk. So consider these reasons why it pays to heed signs of bed bugs.

1)    Many people are allergic to the chemicals released when these insects bite. Victims can develop redness, swelling and other signs of inflammation around the bite marks. But that may not be all. Allergies can be serious. In a few people, bites may provoke life-threatening reactions. (Note that not everybody is allergic to bed bugs, though. So if you suspect you have bed bugs, even if you don’t have bites, you might need to check your home carefully for the insects.)

2)    Scientists have shown that bed bugs can carry many different types of germs in and on their bodies. The good news: There is no strong evidence yet that the bugs can pass on these germs to people. Scientists are looking at this possibility, however. A 2014 study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine did find that most bed bugs that fed on mice infected with Trypansoma cruzi could pick up the parasite. When the same bed bugs later fed on uninfected mice, the insects transmitted the parasite to them. T. cruzi causes a sometimes fatal illness called Chagas disease. Scientists now are doing follow-up research to figure out if the bugs also can spread this parasite to people.

Bite marks visible several hours after baby bed bugs had fed on this hand.louento.pix / Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

3)    Even if bed bugs do not spread infections, they definitely can cause mental harm to some people. In 2012, researchers from the University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada, found that bed bug infestations can make people anxious and give them insomnia — trouble sleeping. This was true even in people who never had anxiety problems in the past. And trouble sleeping isn’t the biggest threat to mental health. In 2013, the same Canadian researchers reported on a woman with mental health problems who later suffered a series of bed-bug infestations. Coping with them so overwhelmed her that she eventually took her life.

4)    But perhaps the best reason not to ignore these pests: They won’t go away on their own. Bed bugs can live several months without a meal. During that time, they’ll just hunker down in some dark spot and wait for the next warm-blooded meal source to show up — perhaps you.

Brooke Borel is the author of a new book on bed bugs.

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