Bed bugs are making a comeback in a big way across North America, with increased cases in Canada and America. And the headlines they bring with them include everything from worries about what they carry — including antibiotic-resistant bacteria and stigma — to their effects on the mental health of those who have been infested.
In September, they were the subject of an international summit.
Bed bugs are more than pesky, according to research just presented at the American Psychiatric Association 2011 Annual Meeting,
New York School of Medicine researchers say that bugs "may be responsible" for a variety of mental health issues that cause impairment, including suicidality and psychiatric hospitalization, according to a report in Medscape.com.
"It is a major undertaking to exterminate them, and there is a great deal of social isolation and stigma that accompanies an infestation," the article noted.
Bed bugs, by the way, were just about wiped out in the 1950s, but "pesticide resistance, modern air travel and the banning of DDT all contributed to their resurgence, creating a great deal of media attention," it said.
News reports about bed bugs have been creeping up since about 2000. And it's also a hot topic in medical literature.
The researchers said they got interested when psychiatric cases started showing up in the dermatology clinic.
Meanwhile, the Detroit Free Press was just one of dozens of papers carrying stories about the finding by Canadian researchers that some bed bugs carry the drug-resistant MRSA bacteria. The Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus has proven challenging for doctors to get rid of in patients because it's highly resistant to a number of antibiotics. And bed bugs have also been found that are resistant to vancomycin — one of the antibiotics typically used to treat MRSA. That vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium is considered a "less dangerous antbiotic-resistant bacteria," but potentially troubling nonetheless, the Detroit Free Press article noted.
For the Canadian research, reported in Emerging Infectious Disease, the scientists "smooshed" bed bugs taken from three hospital patients who lived in a low-income Vancouver neighborhood. Then they looked for and found the bacteria.
That does not mean, all reports on the study are quick to point out, that the bed bugs could do anything unfriendly to humans by using that bacteria. The bed bugs are not known to spread disease. But some reports do speculate about the possibility because bed bugs bite and then people scratch the itchy, miserable wounds they leave. What happens if that bacteria gets in the skin breaks?
Among the tricks to eradicate bed bugs, according to the Mayo Clinic, are vacuuming, hot water, a clothes dryer (20 minutes on medium to high heat), bagged and left in a hot car on a warm summer day with the window rolled up or placed in a freezer to kill the little biters. If you leave them outdoors or in the freezer, plan on doing it for several days. But you should think about dumping heavy infested items like couches and mattresses, it says.