Do Bed Bugs Carry Disease & Can They Make You Ill?
With stories about the rise of bed bugs all over the news, you may be becoming alarmed at the possibility that bed bugs carry disease. It’s bad enough to have pests taking over your home and crawling on you at night. Couple that with a fear of more serious consequences, and it’s enough to make anyone paranoid.
Whether you have already spotted an insect in your home or you just want to be aware of prevention strategies, it’s reasonable to worry about getting sick from a bug bite. After all, many bugs, like mosquitoes and ticks, transfer illnesses to people. Fortunately, disease from bed bugs doesn’t appear to be as serious an issue as diseases from these other pests.
Take a look at what we know about bed bugs and their potential for spreading disease.
What Are Bed Bugs?
Bed bugs are small, flightless insects. The are often thought to be nocturnal, though they actually will come out any time they think they can find a meal. Unfortunately for us, their idea of the perfect meal is a serving of blood from a human host.
Bed bugs cannot jump, so their only method of reaching their meals is to crawl. They can crawl fairly quickly for tiny creatures, but it can only get them so far in a limited amount of time. They certainly can’t keep up with a moving person.
That’s precisely why they tend to grow into infestations in a home. These pests will find a place where human hosts go to be still, that is, to relax, study, sleep, or do work that requires sitting for long periods. When they find a sedentary person, it’s meal time.
Of course, what that means for you, the unwitting host, is that you end up with bug bites.
How Do I Know If I’ve Been Bitten By A Bed Bug?
You may not even know if you’ve been bitten by a bed bug. Some people never develop any signs of a bite, and the bites themselves do not hurt. Everyone reacts differently, however. If you see the distinctive bite pattern of a bed bug on your skin, then you’ve got confirmation that you have, in fact, been bitten.
Can Bed Bugs Spread Disease?
Let’s clear up this concern. There are no known cases of bed bugs spreading disease to humans. Lab tests confirm that, like pretty much all living organisms, bed bugs do carry bacteria and viruses. It seems, however, that whatever diseases they carry either do not affect humans, or the bugs are not able to transfer them to us.
Just because bed bugs don’t spread diseases does not mean you can’t get sick from a bite, though. You still need to get rid of bed bugs if they take up residence in your home. Bed bug bites are tiny wounds, and as with any wound, they can get infected. It’s also possible to develop an allergy to bed bug bites. In that case, you may need medical attention for an allergic reaction.
To prevent infections, don’t scratch the bites, and keep them clean with soap and water. You may want to cover them up with a bandage, as well.
What a bed bug bite looks like
The individual bite spots look like small red dots or bumps on the skin. Unfortunately, many bug bites look like this, so looking at one bite may not confirm that what you have is actually a bed bug bite. The easy way to know if your bites are from a bed bug is that these pests tend to crawl in a straight line while feeding on you, so their bites will form rows on your skin, unlike the random patterns of other insects (this is not to say that bed bugs don't cause random bite patterns too; because they do).
The most common sites for bed bug bites are on the limbs, or anywhere that is typically exposed while you sleep because bed bugs are not particularly good at moving around through barriers like clothing and hair. They will bite anywhere that is exposed though, going for the easiest meals.
You may also develop a rash around the area of the bites. This is uncommon, but some people have sensitivities to bed bug saliva that makes them itchy. The bites are not itchy for everyone.
Other indicators of a bed bug bite
If you have bite marks but aren’t able to identify them for sure as bed bug bites, then you can look for other signs of bed bugs in your home to try to determine what pest the bites came from. Here’s what to look for.
Bed bugs tend to leave fecal matter behind on bedding and furniture. Their droppings look like dark dots, and they can smear. If you suspect bed bugs in the bedroom, you can change to white or light-colored sheets to look for their waste. Occasionally, blood stains from your bites may also appear on sheets or pillow cases.
You may also see left behind bed bug skins. Bed bugs shed their skin, or molt, multiple times in their life cycle.
Obviously, the most clear indicator of a bed bug infestation is actually seeing the bugs. They don’t like to be out in the open. You can, however, take a flashlight and check under your mattress, under furniture cushions, and in crevices of furniture and baseboards.
If you can’t find any signs of bed bugs, your bites may still be from them. Think about other places you potentially could have been exposed. There may be bed bugs at an office, movie theater, hotel, or other locations where lots of people sit still or sleep.
The short answer to whether bed bugs carry disease is no. You’re not going to get a sore throat or upset stomach from being bitten by a bed bug. Even so, you should still treat their bites as what they are, small wounds that could become irritated or infected. Don’t take bed bug bites lightly. Once you’ve identified an infestation by spotting a bug or their waste, take steps to prevent future bites from happening.
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