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Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite

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Of all possible allergic reactions, the wheals that come from bed bug bites may be the most horrifying. “One aspect of the medical effects of bed bug bites that is almost never addressed is the significant psychological distress caused by the bites,” noted Stephen L. Doggett, Senior Hospital Scientist at Westmead Hospital, New South Wales, Australia. “This is a very real health problem and should not be ignored.”

Bed bug infestation is on the rise, Doggett reported. The adults are about the size of an apple seed, and are most commonly found along mattress beading (the rope-like trim around the top of typical mattresses). They live on human blood. Most bites occur at night while the victim is asleep. Bed bugs inject saliva into their bite sites to prevent coagulation of the blood. This saliva contains protein fractions that produce allergic reactions. It may take several days for skin lesions to develop. Some people develop bullous eruptions with fever and malaise. Anaphylaxis has been reported in rare cases.

Bed bug bites have been misdiagnosed as many other conditions, including:
1. Bites from other insects, including mosquitoes and spiders
2. Scabies, a contagious skin disease caused by tiny mites
3. Food allergies
4. Hives
5. Antibiotic reactions
6. Staphylococcus infections
7. Chicken pox

Since bed bugs suck blood, there is concern in the medical community that these insects may be able to transmit infectious disease. Pascal Delaunay and colleagues in France provided a review of 45 candidate pathogens that have at least some potential to be transmitted by bed bugs. Hepatitis B virus is the leading suspect, but so far there is no proof that bed bugs are effective disease vectors.

The possibility of HIV transmission raises special concerns. In lab experiments, HIV survived for 8 days in bed bugs. However, the virus did not replicate and was not transmitted to lab animals. “Therefore, to date, HIV is no longer a valid candidate pathogen for bedbug-borne transmission,” Delaunay concluded.

Both Delaunay and Doggett recommended professional pest control measures for bed bug infestations. The insects can hide in many areas, so it's not enough to clean or even replace the bed. Delaunay added that fumigants are frequently used by nonprofessionals, but are not effective.

For treatment, Doggett recommended that doctors consult the review by Dr. Jerome Goddard and Dr. Richard deShazo of Mississippi State University. Options include antihistamines, corticosteroids, antibiotics, and epinephrine.


1. Delaunay P et al, “Bedbugs and infectious diseases”, Clin Infec Dis. 2011 January 5; 52(2): 200-10.

2. Doggett SL et al, “Bed bugs: What the GP needs to know”, Aust Fam Physician 2009 Nov; 38(11): 880-4.

3. Goddard J et al, “Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) and clinical consequences of their bites”, JAMA 2009 Apr 1; 301(13): 1358-66.

Reviewed July 12, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg R.N.
Edited by Alison Stanton

Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.

Add a Comment3 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Frank the BedBug Chaser again and I saw this in Pest Management & Green Lodging. There is now an economical way for hotels, exterminators or anyone for that matter to use clean 100% Chemical Free & Green electric heat to get rid of bedbugs
or http://www.greenlodgingnews.com/bedbug-chasers-announces-nationwide-bed-bug-heater

July 13, 2011 - 4:10am
EmpowHER Guest

I have just finished my first month scabies free. It took almost a year to get rid of the scabies I caught in a motel. About 4 weeks after I stayed at this motel the scabies started itching. Since I am single and have had no physical contact with anyone for 2 years, my doctor, after many questions, determined how I got it. The medicine cream i used didn't work the first 2 times i used it. Finally I feel normal again. How can you prevent scabies when you can't even see them on the sheets.

July 12, 2011 - 10:06am
EmpowHER Guest

knowing how to get rid of bed bugs is important in this case, and also knowing prevention techniques so that this threat will not come to fruition

July 12, 2011 - 7:14am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.



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