A new study that shows bed bugs can transmit the parasite that causes Chagas disease. This dangerous disease is common in Latin and South America where it is spread by kissing bugs. The research, which was recently published in the American Journal of Medicine and Hygiene revealed that bed bugs can get the parasite from infected mice and pass the parasite to mice that are not infected.
What is Chagas Disease?
The Brazilian doctor Carlos Chagas discovered Chagas disease in the early 1900s. The disease is spread through the droppings of kissing bugs (also called assassin bugs). Kissing bugs like to suck blood near people’s eyes and mouth at night and will defecate near the bite. People get infected when the droppings are smeared into an open wound, rubbed into the eye or accidentally eaten. The parasite Trypanosoma cruzi causes Chagas disease. The disease often shows no symptoms for many years before causing complications later in life. Some people never develop symptoms, but those with chronic Chagas can develop heart problems that can lead to sudden death and intestinal problems that make eating and going to the bathroom difficult. The disease is even more dangerous for people with weak immune systems.
Do Bed Bugs Spread Disease?
The jury is still out on whether or not bed bugs can spread the parasite that causes Chagas disease to humans, more research still needs to be done. The laboratory study, conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredina in Peru, used only mice and found that the parasite can be transmitted in both directions — from the host to the insect and vice versa. Bed bugs, like kissing bugs, also defecate near the bite wound. Historically, there has been no evidence that bed bugs spread disease, but with the recent population explosion of these household pests, we need to use caution.
How Do I Prevent Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are notorious hitchhikers, so be especially careful when you travel. You can prevent an infestation by leaving your luggage in the bathtub and thoroughly inspecting your hotel room when you arrive. Check along the seams of the mattress and the cracks of the headboard for shed skins and small dark spots from blood and droppings. When you get home, vacuum your suitcase and wash all your clothing on the hottest setting. If your home becomes infested with bed bugs, consider contacting a local pest control company as do-it-yourself methods can make matters worse.
Thumbnail photo credit: Piotr Naskrecki and provided by the CDC/Harvard University, Dr. Gary Alpert, Dr. Harold Harlan, and Richard Pollack. In-content photo credit: "Bed bug (265 17)" by RNDr. Josef Reischig, CSc. and is licensed by CC BY 3.0.