How Are Bed Bugs Dangerous

Bed Bugs FAQs

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, range from 1mm to 7mm (roughly the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny), and can live several months without a blood meal.

Where are bed bugs found?

Bed bugs are found across the globe from North and South America, to Africa, Asia and Europe. Although the presence of bed bugs has traditionally been seen as a problem in developing countries, it has recently been spreading rapidly in parts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. Bed bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found.

Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other clutter or objects around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.

Do bed bugs spread disease?

Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bugs can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.

What health risks do bed bugs pose?

A bed bug bite affects each person differently. Bite responses can range from an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.

What are the signs and symptoms of a bed bug infestation?

One of the easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by the tell-tale bite marks on the face, neck, arms, hands, or any other body parts while sleeping. However, these bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people so it is important to look for other clues when determining if bed bugs have infested an area. These signs include:

  • the bed bugs’ exoskeletons after molting,
  • bed bugs in the fold of mattresses and sheets,
  • rusty–colored blood spots due to their blood-filled fecal material that they excrete on the mattress or nearby furniture, and
  • a sweet musty odor.

How do I know if I’ve been bitten by a bed bug?

It is hard to tell if you’ve been bitten by a bed bug unless you find bed bugs or signs of infestation. When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea — a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Other symptoms of bed bug bites include insomnia, anxiety, and skin problems that arise from profuse scratching of the bites.

Because bed bug bites affect everyone differently, some people may have no reaction and will not develop bite marks or any other visible signs of being bitten. Other people may be allergic to the bed bugs and can react adversely to the bites. These allergic symptoms can include enlarged bite marks, painful swellings at the bite site, and, on rare occasions, anaphylaxis.

How did I get bed bugs?

Bed bugs are experts at hiding. Their slim flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest of spaces and stay there for long periods of time, even without a blood meal. Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. The bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide. Most people do not realize they are transporting stow-away bed bugs as they travel from location to location, infecting areas as they travel.

Who is at risk for getting bed bugs?

Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.

How are bed bugs treated and prevented?

Bed bug bites usually do not pose a serious medical threat. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. If you suspect that you have an infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bed bugs. The best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.

This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the parasites described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.

Monitor the health of your community here

More Articles

What Are the Dangers of Bed Bugs?

Until recent years, bed bugs were no longer considered much of a problem in the U.S. — and the saying "Don’t let the bed bugs bite" was just an old-fashioned phrase whose meaning was almost forgotten — but then bed bugs made a comeback.The bed bug, or Cimex lectularius, gets its nickname from the fact that it often makes its home in people’s beds. Although bed bugs bite and feed on human blood, according to research published in JAMA in 2009, they are not known transmit blood-borne diseases, including HIV or the hepatitis B virus. However, they do pose other dangers to people. If you suspect you have bed bugs, see your doctor for advice and treatment.

Allergic Reaction

The Michigan Department of Community Health notes that the physical manifestations of bed bug bites can vary widely 2.You may not even notice bed bug bites at all. If you do notice bites, you may dismiss them as mosquito bites because the localized redness and swelling may look much like that the mosquito leaves behind.However, if you are sensitive to insect bites of any kind, you may experience an allergic reaction to bed bug bites.This allergic reaction can be mild, only causing itching, skin reddening and irritation.More severe allergic reactions are possible and may require you to treat them with anti-itch ointments or oral corticosteroids and antihistamines.

Infection

Bedbug bites alone do not cause infection. However, if you are unable to avoid scratching the bites, infection may result. Scratching bedbug bites can cause openings or breaks in the skin. Bacteria can enter through these breaks and begin to multiply, leading to infection. Your doctor can prescribe creams to apply directly to the bites to prevent infection or advise you to use over-the-counter antiseptic ointments instead.

Respiratory Problems

If you or a member of your household suffers from respiratory problems, the presence of bedbugs can worsen these conditions. Bed bugs shed their outer skins, or casings, as they grow.These casings, along with the bed bugs’ feces, can dry out and become airborne.The Rhode Island Department of Health warns that breathing the cast-off material from bed bugs can aggravate asthma and other respiratory ailments 2.

Anemia

A case study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2009 describes the case of a 60-year-old man who presented to his doctor with symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia 1. The patient had no physical causes of this anemia but upon examination of his home, the patient’s doctor found an infestation of thousands of bed bugs. Although most people with bed bug bites are unlikely to suffer anemia as a result, it could occur in extreme cases, especially if you have other risk factors for anemia.

What are bedbugs? Are they dangerous?

The blood-sucking insects are the bane of most city-dwellers, but one entomologist proudly keeps a colony at the American Museum of Natural History. Is there any way for the rest of us to steer clear of them?

  • By Brendan Borrell on February 27, 2009

"data-newsletterpromo-image="https://static.scientificamerican.com/sciam/cache/file/CF54EB21-65FD-4978-9EEF80245C772996_source.jpg"data-newsletterpromo-button-text="Sign Up"data-newsletterpromo-button-link="https://www.scientificamerican.com/page/newsletter-sign-up/?origincode=2018_sciam_ArticlePromo_NewsletterSignUp"name="articleBody" itemprop="articleBody">

NEW YORK—Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbugs bite? Ifonly. The creepy critters have become such a nuisance here that the city council is mulling legislation that would establish a bedbug task force, ban the sale of used mattresses, train exterminators, and regulate mattress disposal. Just how infested is Gotham? According to theNew York Daily News, there were 22,218 complaints to the city’s 311 hotline about infestations of the blood-sucking hemipterans, a 34 percent jump since this time last year.

And the Big Apple is not alone in its battle against the bugs. In Chicago, the number of official complaints doubled from 900 to 1,650 during that same period, according to theTribune. Boston already slaps warning stickers on discarded furniture and Cincinnati has its own bedbug task force. The bugs, which originally hailed from Europe, were nearly wiped out by DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) in the 1950s. But they have been making a comeback since the insecticide was banned in the U.S. in 1972, a decade after journalist Rachel Carson documented the chemical’s damaging effects on humans and wildlife in her book Silent Spring.

"I’m petrified to turn the lights off at night," one discouraged New Yorker toldNewsdaythis week. "I’m not getting proper sleep, I can’t concentrate on work."

Contrary to their name, bedbugs do not only hang out in beds. They can be found in just about in nook and cranny and can survive for several months without a warm blood meal. The adults are reddish-brown, as about 0.2 inch (five millimeters) long, roughly the height of the numbers on a credit card, and resemble tiny cockroaches; when young, they’re pale and about the size of a pinhead. They leave itchy red skin welts and cause endless grief for their victims.

So what’s the story on these pesky ectoparasites? Is there any surefire way to avoid them—or to get rid of them if they grace you with their vampiric presence?

To find out, we spoke with Louis Sorkin, an entomologist at the American Museum of Natural History here, who sustains a personal colony of the bugs with his own blood.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

What are bedbugs?
The common bedbug isCimex lectularius. They are true bugs [of the order Hemiptera] in that they possess a hinged beak in the front of the head and have a stylet. The stylet is what is pushed through the skin to find a blood vessel inside. The bug sucks until it’s full, and when it’s finished it will go and hide and digest the blood. The body swells up to six times its normal size—from a flat insect to football-shaped.

So are they really just found in beds?
By virtue of its name, people always think bedbugs are found only in beds when, in fact, they fit anywhere their bodies can be hidden and they are as thin as a sheet of paper. They are found in all kinds of furniture, electric appliances, clock radios, computers, printers, behind pictures, books and, of course, bookcases. They are found in cracks and crevices in the wall and within walls as well as in electric outlets, wiring, pipes, plastic and metal conduits.

The problem with calling them a "bedbug" is people have an infestation and they throw out the mattress, but then the critters come back. It’s really a nest or roost-inhabiting insect, and our homes are our roosts.

How do you get bedbugs?
They are good hitchhikers. Often people carry them unknowingly in their luggage. This can be baggage when you are traveling, a briefcase, a backpack or just clothing. They can be picked up in public transportation sometimes or in theaters. They will travel on pipes and wiring and conduits from one apartment to another.

Are they dangerous?
As far as the research shows, they don’t transmit diseases, but they do bite and take blood. People can get secondary infections if they scratch their wounds. In some people, the itching is unbearable. There’s some disagreement as to how many people don’t itch at all. That’s one reason why infestations can be so bad, because people don’t realize they have them

In a few cases, there may be an anaphylactic reaction. It is also possible to have an asthmatic reaction because of the shed skin the bugs leave behind as they grow and die.

How do you know if you have bedbugs?
If you have unexplained bites, that’s a good way to know. You can also look for their blood droppings. The excrement is a liquid that varies from either light brown to black and can either bead up or be absorbed by the surface.

In some cases, we use dogs who are trained to sniff out live bedbugs or past infestations. They’ll pick up on the odor of even one bedbug. We can’t typically smell bed bugs, but we do pick up their alarm pheromone when they are disturbed, which smells like coriander. If there are a lot of live bugs, there may be a smell of blood, like rusty iron.

If you are traveling, you should examine the headboard in your hotel room. The headboard should be taken off and looked into. Massive headboards would be a great condominium complex for bedbugs.

How do you get rid of them?
Often you have to seek the services of a pest control expert who has had a lot of experience. You don’t have to get rid of your furniture. Insecticides can be sprayed on furniture or furniture can be taken apart and sprayed with orange oil or Murphy’s oil, both of which have an insecticidal quality. There are special preparations labeled for mattresses.

The nonchemical ways to remove bedbugs include low-vapor steam treatments, which are done for mattresses and furniture. There are also encasements that you put the mattress box spring in. You starve them to death, but it will take months.

In medieval times, when people would travel to inns with bedbug problems, they would send a pig into the room first so the bedbugs would feed and be satiated.

Don’t you have a colony of bedbugs at the museum?
I’ve only had them for three years, but the original population had been collected from Fort Dix in New Jersey by an Army entomologist in 1971.

I have two eight-ounce jars with about a thousand bugs. There’s a fine screen and I have duct tape around the base of the screw-on lid. Inside, there is just cardboard and paper, because they like to hide between the pieces.

Once a month, I just have to invert them on my arm in order to feed them. I get a bump on my arm for an hour or two and then it goes away. It doesn’t itch.

And why is it that you keep these vile creatures?
They’re mostly for educational purposes. I can show people and reporters all sizes of bedbugs. I also supply bedbugs to the companies that train the bedbug-sniffing dogs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

Brendan Borrell

Brendan Borrellis a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, New York. He writes forBloomberg Businessweek,Nature,Outside,Scientific American, and many other publications, and is the co-author (with ecologist Manuel Molles) of the textbookEnvironment: Science, Issues, Solutions. He traveled to Brazil with the support of the Mongabay Special Reporting Initiative. Follow him on Twitter @bborrell.

Are Bed Bugs Dangerous?

Bed bugs live with us, among us, and there’s little we can do about it. They have been around since the dawn of time and even though they can be quite a nuisance, most of the time they don’t pose a serious threat to our health if properly treated.

Sure, in the worst-case scenario, they can cause serious health issues, but it’s the irritating itching that keeps people awake at night that does the real damage in most cases.

Bed bugs can, in fact, bite, and their bites can be quite painful, which then leads to sleep deprivation, loss of focus, and general discomfort. Of course, different people will have different reactions, so it’s important to know how to deal with a bed bug infestation.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the health risks involved and what you can do about it.

Chemical Sensitivity & Reactions to Bed Bug Bites

The most common symptoms of bed bug bites are welts or red bumps on the skin that appear a couple of days after being bitten. Most of the time, these reactions don’t last for more than a few days but there are rare cases where it takes several weeks for symptoms to subside. These red bumps look a lot like mosquito bites, except that they stay around for much longer, and tend to cause an increased level of pain and discomfort.

The welts are incessantly itchy, so there’s no avoiding scratching. One of the health issues related to bed bug bites is excessive scratching. Excessive scratching can cause irritation and damage to the skin, which could be an introduction to various forms of infection if left untreated.

To prevent more serious reactions and persistent redness, take all the necessary precautions and even consult a doctor if necessary. Bed bugs inject a chemical when they bite which acts almost like an anesthetic, and that’s why most people don’t feel a thing while bed bugs feast on their blood. This injection of chemical into your body also creates the risk of contracting a bloodborne pathogen.

To most people, this chemical is literally harmless but there are those who are allergic and break out in a rash or develop a disease, such as Chagas disease. If you see any signs of a rash or start to suffer from a fever consult a doctor immediately.

How to Prevent a Bed Bug Infestation

If you’re worried about a bed bug infestation in your home, here’s what you can do:

  • Check your sleeping area
  • Check your luggage
  • Inspect everything that comes into your home for the first time (stuffed animal toys, new clothing, appliances, furniture, and so on)
  • Inspect your bed carefully
  • Take the necessary precautions when you leave your home for longer periods
  • Wash travel clothes immediately upon your arrival
  • Inspect your home with a pest control specialist

To conclude, bed bugs usually do not cause severe reactions, but they do cause disruption in your daily routine, substantial itching, and pain and suffering. They can cause issues such as added treatment expenses and even loss of sleep, so try to stop the spread of infestation as soon as you uncover one.

If you’ve been the victim of a bed bug infestation and are looking for a way to receive compensation for your pain and suffering, reach out to the Bed Bug Lawyers today!

Are Bed Bugs Dangerous: Possible Health Risks

While bed bugs may be a nuisance, they’re usually not considered dangerous. Learn more about bed bugs and the possible health risks they carry.

Humans have lived withbed bugssince the earliest days of our existence, or more correctly stated, bed bugs have lived with humans. Since bed bugs are human parasites, our survival is critical to theirs. This may be one of the reasons bed bugs have not been known to transmit diseases to humans. It would not be in the best interest of the bed bug to carry or introduce anything into the food supply that could cause the supply to disappear.

However, while they have not yet been shown to transmit diseases through feeding activities, there may still be health risks associated with bed bugs. They can be responsible for health issues that range from mild to very serious.

The most common health issue is related to the itching that often comes along with bed bug bites. Many people experience red bumps or welts on their skin within a couple of days of a bed bug attack. In some cases, the reaction may take up to a week or two, and some people do not react at all. The bumps or welts look very similar to a mosquito bite but tend to stay with the afflicted person much longer, often two weeks or more. These bites can itch incessantly, and scratching is inevitable. That is where the danger comes in.

Excessive scratching can cause damage to the skin that may allow the introduction of organisms of infection, some of them very dangerous. Taking reasonable care and controlling the urge to scratch can prevent more serious reactions, but if there is any indication of infection – such as persistent redness or other common indicators – you should consult a doctor for an evaluation.

Beyond some of the health risks associated with bed bugs, the question still remains: "Are bed bugs dangerous?" They can certainly cause disruption in your life. Loss of sleep, taking care of bites, treatment costs and other distractive issues related to bed bugs can take a toll on anyone. Some of these issues are just inconvenient while others can become very dangerous, especially if they affect your job performance, driving safety or other things in life that require alertness and your full attention.

Helping Prevent a Bed Bug Infestation

There are several things you can do to avoid a bed bug infestation in your home:

An overnight stay almost anywhere outside of your home may present an opportunity for bed bugs to relocate, so be careful to check your sleeping area and make sure your luggage doesn’t get infested, even if you are staying with a friend or relative.

Carefully inspect anything that comes into your home for the first time. Furniture, appliances, new clothing, even stuffed animals for the kids, could all be infested with bed bugs.

Inspect your bed thoroughly each time you change the bedding. Bed bugs can feed and go undetected for months in some cases. Some people do not react to the bites, so physical sighting of the bed bugs or their evidence may be the only way to know they are active in your home.

When you return from overnight trips, leave your suitcase in the garage or any other area away from the places you spend most of your time, especially the bed. For an extra level of protection, wash travel clothes immediately when you get home. Items that cannot be washed can usually be run through the clothes dryer for 20 to 30 minutes on the highest heat setting. The clothes dryer alone gets hot enough to kill all stages of bed bugs and their eggs.

While there may be some comfort in knowing that bed bugs do not transmit diseases as they feed, nobody likes the thought of being the food supply for any type of insect, especially sneaky ones like bed bugs that feed while you are sleeping, and without your permission.

Are bed bugs dangerous enough to kill you? Probably not, but if you suspect bed bugs may be trying to establish themselves in your home, get a pest control specialist to inspect your home. They will help you develop a plan to avoid bed bugs if they have not already found their way in, and to get rid of them if they have.

Do Earwigs Bite?

If you shudder a little when you think about earwigs, you’re probably not alone. They’ve developed quite a nasty reputation, thanks to urban legends (mostly false) that have been circulating for years. But are they harmful?

The Lifespans of Insects With Short Lives

Many insects, such as butterflies, have a lifespan that occurs in four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Other insects, such as grasshoppers, do not have a pupal stage and instead go through three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. The length of each stage can vary based on many things, from the insect species to the temperature outside—but what some insects share in common is a very short adult stage. Keep reading to learn about five insects with some of the shortest adult stages in their lifespan.

The Return of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

The change of seasons from summer to fall means many things: leaves changing colors, dropping temperatures, and—depending on where you live—stink bugs sneaking into your home. Stink bugs were named for their distinct ability to emit an unpleasant odor when they are threatened or disturbed by predators like lizards or birds. This also means that if stink bugs enter your home and feel threatened, you’ll be faced with dealing with their strong smell in your house. As we head into fall, you might find yourself with more active stink bugs than usual, so it’s important to know the basics about these smelly insects.

What are Earwigs?

Most people have probably heard of earwigs at some point or another. These creepy-looking insects are associated with some urban myths. Learn the truth about earwigs, including what attracts them and how to help get rid of them.

ARE TICKS DANGEROUS?

The majority of ticks will deliver painless bites without any noticeable symptoms. However, some ticks can carry a variety of bacteria and pathogens for disease. Although not all ticks are dangerous, you don’t want to risk coming into contact with these blood-sucking insects.

ARE TICKS DANGEROUS?

The majority of ticks will deliver painless bites without any noticeable symptoms. However, some ticks can carry a variety of bacteria and pathogens for disease. Although not all ticks are dangerous, you don’t want to risk coming into contact with these blood-sucking insects.

Are Bed Bugs Contagious?

Bed bugs are not too picky about where and when they catch a ride and don’t necessarily have a preferred mode of transportation, so it’s no surprise how many people wonder, are bed bugs contagious?

Related Articles

Do Earwigs Bite?

If you shudder a little when you think about earwigs, you’re probably not alone. They’ve developed quite a nasty reputation, thanks to urban legends (mostly false) that have been circulating for years. But are they harmful?

Cluster Flies In Your Home

If you’re like many homeowners, you’ve dealt with annoying flies ruining your summer barbecues and outdoor dinner parties. You may have even become accustomed to whipping out the flypaper and heavy-duty bug zappers the minute you hear the familiar buzz of a fly. These annoying pests are likely house flies, which can pose significant health risks to you and your family. But have you ever seen large, sluggish flies loitering inside your home in the autumn and winter? They may be cluster flies.

Tips to Get Rid of Stink Bugs in Your House

Now that it’s fall, it’s officially indoor stink bug season. Before it becomes winter, brown marmorated stink bugs are looking for comfortable overwintering sites to spend the cold months—and that can often mean that they may find a way to sneak into your house. While the odor that a stink bug releases is not dangerous, they are definitely a nuisance. Luckily, there are steps you can take to get rid of stink bugs in your house—without having to deal with the unpleasant smell.

What are Sand Fleas?

Many people love going to the beach to spend time in the sun, sand, and water. But they might not love some of the nuisances that live at the beach or in the ocean, such as gnats or jellyfish. But, what about the sand flea, a small critter that can be found in moist areas such as under rocks or debris. Keep reading to learn exactly what sand fleas are and if you need to worry about them.

The Lifespans of Insects With Short Lives

Many insects, such as butterflies, have a lifespan that occurs in four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Other insects, such as grasshoppers, do not have a pupal stage and instead go through three stages: egg, nymph, and adult. The length of each stage can vary based on many things, from the insect species to the temperature outside—but what some insects share in common is a very short adult stage. Keep reading to learn about five insects with some of the shortest adult stages in their lifespan.

The Return of the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

The change of seasons from summer to fall means many things: leaves changing colors, dropping temperatures, and—depending on where you live—stink bugs sneaking into your home. Stink bugs were named for their distinct ability to emit an unpleasant odor when they are threatened or disturbed by predators like lizards or birds. This also means that if stink bugs enter your home and feel threatened, you’ll be faced with dealing with their strong smell in your house. As we head into fall, you might find yourself with more active stink bugs than usual, so it’s important to know the basics about these smelly insects.

Add Comments: