Bed Bugs: A Public Health Concern?
By Cole Anderson
I can remember when my parents used to say "Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite!", but never did I think that a seemingly 'harmless' goodnight phrase would become a reality and a health concern for many Canadians. In recent years, bed bugs have become national newsleaving individuals questioning; why have bedbugs made a comeback? And are they a health concern?
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small insects that feed solely on the blood of people andanimals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish"brown in colour, and can live several months without a blood meal, making them very resilient and hard to eliminate. They don't fly andspread by 'hitching rides' on items such as clothing, purses and luggage. They then establish themselves in mattresses, bedding, furniture, cracks in walls and even electronics.
The first clue suggesting bed bug infestation is itching bites. Bed bug bites may cause allergic reactions like mosquito bites. Frequent scratching of the bite or picking the scabs can cause secondary infections such as impetigo and ecthyma (ulcers beneath the crusted infection). Bite reactions are different among people, other signs to look for include: fecal spots (resemble small brown blood stains), molted skins, and clumps of eggs resembling rice.
There is no evidence that shows bed bugs transmit disease. Although, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently proclaimed that bed bugs are a "significant public health concern". Bed bug bites in enough numbers can lead to anemia, mental health concerns, anxiety, insomnia, and depression.
There is no way to prevent bed bugs entirely. Below are some precautions and travel tips from Health Canada to keep bed bugs out of your home;
- Inspect the room and furniture. Inspect your hotel room before bringing luggage, pets or other items in. Don't put your luggage on the bed. Place your luggage on a tile floor (like in the bathroom) away from any upholstered (soft) surfaces.
- Protect your luggage. Use Light"coloured plastic luggage; bedbugs are less attracted to plastic and the lighter colour makes them easier to spot.
- Don't bring your pillow. It gives bedbugs a place to hide and come home with you.
- Inspect your sleeping area. Slowly lift up each corner of the mattress and examine the creases and tufts of the mattress and box spring, behind the headboard and the wall behind the bed, the pillows, bed coverings and bed skirt, the bed frame and legs.
- Keep luggage away from other items. If possible unpack outdoors.
- If you believe you have an infestation. Contact a pest control company, as integrated pest management (IPM) is the safest and most effective eradication method.
The bed bug is an old pest that was common in homes before World War II. 50 years ago, bed bugs would have rarely been seen outside of cramped living quarters and less than sanitary conditions due to the widespread use of synthetic pesticides. However, by the mid to late 1990's, bed bugs began appearing more often in single"family homes, apartments, nursing homes, hotels, and hospitals. While bedbugs affect people from all walks of life, infestations occur most often among people who live in lower income housing, high"density dwellings and shelters, thus also becoming an issue of social justice.
Entomologists and pest control professionals have some reasonable theories on the dramatic increase of bed bugs throughout much of the world. As stated by the World Health Organization, the combination of increased international travel, the ban of using non"repellent and residual insecticides (such as DDT and Cholordane), and growing insecticide resistance by bed bugs have enabled their resurgence.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Bed Bugs: Cimex lectularius. Accessed from; http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/bedbugs/faqs.html
Cole Anderson is a Community Health Worker on the Diabetes Health Mobile team at the NorWest Community Health Centres.
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