Health Team

Bed bugs keep on biting

Bed bugs are increasingly popping up from hotels to dormitories in small towns and big cities. But it's unclear how dangerous their bit is to humans.

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Don't laugh at the old good-night saying: "Don't let the bed bugs bite."

Bed bugs are increasingly popping up in hotels and dormitories in small towns and big cities.

"Many different studies show 300, 400, 500 percent increases in reports of bed bugs or reports of bed bug infestations," said Dr. Jerome Goddard, an entomologist with Mississippi State University.

The bed bug resurgence is due to international travel, immigration and changes in pest control practices, Goddard said. Since bed bugs can spread easily by hitching a ride on luggage, any venue can be infested.

"It has nothing to do with how clean you are. Some of the cases I've investigated, they've been five-star hotels," Goddard said.

Bed bug bites often cause an itchy rash or red bumps, but it's unclear how dangerous human reactions to bed bug bites are. Few people with bed bug bites come to clinics to be studied.

"Some scientific papers say that bed bugs transmit human diseases; some say they don't," Goddard said. "Some people say you're supposed to throw out the mattresses when there's an infestation of bed bugs; some say you don't."

Goddard analyzed research from more than 50 investigations of bed bugs and published his results in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"The research findings show (that) there is little evidence for human disease transmission by bed bugs," he said.

Secondly, human reactions to bed bug bites range from none to minor skin irritation or, in rare cases, feeling sick.

"Lastly, pest control of bed bugs or eradication is problematic. It's not impossible but certainly difficult," Goddard said.

Bed bugs appear to be more of a nuisance than a health hazard, he concluded.

Experts said the best way to avoid bed bugs is to take a good look at your mattress before going to bed.


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