Bed Bugs Don’t Just Disturb Sleep; They Carry Chagas Disease, Too

a pest control worker

Bed bugs are notorious pests in American homes. In fact, every major city in the country faces this problem, says IPM Pest Control, a Florida-based pest management company. These small, wingless insects thrive in mattresses, furniture, and carpets, feed on the blood of humans and animals, and leave behind red, itchy, and swollen bites.

The silver lining to the issue — if it could be called that — is that their peskiness stops at itchy marks. Although they’re capable of harboring disease-causing pathogens, they can’t transmit them to humans. Unlike other pests like mosquitoes, bed bugs are unlikely to get people sick.

Recent research shows, however, that bed bugs can transmit pathogens. The critters can carry Chagas Disease, which, according to the World Health Organization, is a disease that affects about 6 to 7 million people worldwide.

How Chagas Disease Is Transmitted to Humans

Researchers at the New Mexico State University studied how bed bugs carry the Trypanosoma cruzi, the protozoan that causes Chagas Disease. The pathogen is commonly associated with other insects, like the kissing bug. It resides in the insect’s feces and enters a person’s bloodstream through open wounds, the mouth, or eyes.

Once T. cruzi­ invades the body, it causes fever, headache, enlarged lymph glands, muscle and chest pain, and difficulty breathing. In serious situations, Chagas Disease could lead to death, so experts are vigilant about looking for insects that carry the pathogen.

Pathogens Survive Bed Bug Molting

The study, published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, reveals that almost all the bed bugs fed with T. cruzi­-infected blood housed the pathogens in their guts. The pathogens even survived molting, the stage in a bed bug’s life where it sheds its skin to grow.

This is a remarkable finding, as bed bug nymphs (baby bed bugs) usually molt five times before they reach adulthood. As the T. cruzi­ survives several molting processes and makes their way to the insects’ feces, bed bugs become an effective transmitter of Chagas Disease.

More studies are needed to confirm these findings, though. In the meantime, homeowners need to keep an eye out for bed bugs.

Experts recommend that homeowners call a professional if you suspect a bed bug infestation. It’s best to get rid of bed bugs before they can transmit any disease, after all.