|Everyone knows you’re not supposed to let the bed bugs bite, but new research offers a great reason why.
According to a new study published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, bed bugs could be able to transmit Chagas disease, a terrifying infection that kills about 50,000 people a year and was previously thought to be exclusively carried by the kissing bug. At first, there are few outward signs of infection, but then about 20 years later, some 20% of the afflicted will develop serious problems, including an arrhythmia or even sudden death from cardiac arrest.
“There are a lot of people with Chagas disease, and a lot of bed bugs. They are in our houses, in our beds — and in high numbers,” said Michael Levy, the new paper’s senior author and an assistant professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “We’ve shown that the bed bug can acquire and transmit the parasite. Our next step is to determine whether they are, or will become, an important player in the epidemiology of Chagas disease.”
On the one hand, this is — to say the least — concerning. Chagas disease is serious and can, in fact, lead to cardiac or intestinal complications. Though it’s commonly found in places like South America, Central America, and even Mexico, it’s being diagnosed more and more in the United States.
On the other hand, you can find more than 45 different potential human disease agents in the average bed bug, including Hepatitis B, worms, and other bacteria and viruses. However, none of them have been proven to be transmitted to humans via bed bugs. Not even Chagas disease.
So why then are so many people getting concerned?
Over the past few years, bed bugs have been making quite the comeback. According to a press release from pest control service Orkin, increases in bed bug populations have been evidenced by the more than 20% increase in Rollins’, Orkin’s parent company, bed bug business compared to 2012.
“We have been told that Bed Bugs do not spread disease with the bite, but this report tells us that may not be the case. Fortunately Chagas Disease is not all that common in the US but the CDC states, ‘In the United States, Chagas disease is considered one of the neglected parasitic infections (NPI), a group of five parasitic diseases that have been targeted by CDC for public health action.’ Prompt treatment of bed bug infestations remains the best way to control their spread, and heat treatment the most effective method,” explains Richard Halback of Thermination Technology.
Higher populations of bed bugs that could potentially carry Chagas disease means the U.S. could be facing an increased threat of the infection. Though it’s certainly cause to be concerned, it’s far from a legitimate reason to panic.
“Bed bugs do not cause Chagas disease, they can only carry it,” said Levy. “If you have bed bugs in your house you are not at risk of infection unless the disease is already present… There is much we don’t know about the behavior and ecology of both the Chagas parasite and bed bugs—perhaps there is some detail about the two that we are yet to uncover that will prove them incompatible, and that the threat is empty.”