If you had to design a pest with the intention of driving people crazy, the chances are high that you’d invent something very much like a bed bug.
The fear and panic spread by these insects are out of all proportion with their small size. Yup, bed bugs are one of the most feared pests out there, and it’s not hard to see why.
They feed solely on human blood, which means they actively seek out people to bite. They breed at an astonishingly fast rate, so that a single female can quickly become a full-blown infestation in a matter of weeks.
They can be found almost anywhere humans live, from the humblest home to the mansions of the rich and famous. And once you have bed bugs, they are incredibly difficult to get rid of.
So it’s no surprise that bed bugs can bring out the hypochondriac in all of us. Which leads many a soul to wonder…are bed bugs dangerous?
Do bed bugs carry disease?
Like mosquitoes, bed bugs have a mouth like a hypodermic syringe. They use this to pierce human skin and tap into the blood vessels underneath to get their meal.
Knowing this, you may be wondering if bed bugs spread disease.
After all, we all know the risks of anything that pierces the skin. And mosquitoes are responsible for approximately 1 million deaths each and every year thanks to the diseases that they spread. Could bed bugs do the same?
Thankfully, no. If bed bugs spread disease in the same way mosquitoes do, we might be looking at a worldwide health crisis due to the prevalence of these nasty pests.
One of the few positive things you can say about bed bugs is that they are extremely poor vectors of disease. Bed bugs are very unlikely to make you sick.
In fact, for many years it was thought that bed bugs couldn’t spread any disease at all. It wasn’t until 2014 that a study found that in some instances, bed bugs can transmit the parasite responsible for Chagas disease. This is a serious disease found mostly in Latin America.
However, this has only been observed in a laboratory setting. Whether this has ever happened in the real world is a subject of much debate and further study.
We can all be thankful that bed bugs don’t seem to spread disease to humans. But that doesn’t make them harmless.
There are all kinds of problems that come from having a bed bug infestation in your home. Even if they don’t directly spread disease, bed bugs are not good for your health. That’s why you’ll never hear a doctor prescribe them.
Can bed bugs kill you?
Panic inspires outlandish questions. One such example: can bed bugs kill you? So what’s the answer, you ask?
Bed bugs can kill you only in the most roundabout way. Perhaps if you are hit by a truck driver who was suffering from lack of sleep caused by bed bugs, for instance.
Or maybe if somebody threw a bed bug-infested sofa out of an apartment window while you happened to be walking just below.
Barring these unlikely events, though, bed bugs aren’t going to kill you.
What can, and unfortunately has, killed people in the past is the fearful reaction bed bugs inspire.
In 2010, a North Carolina woman sprayed so much pesticide, both in the house and on her own body, to treat a bed bug problem that she became ill, and wife died.
In Canada in 2015, an illegally imported pesticide used to treat bed bugs caused the death of an infant.
So more dangerous than the bed bugs themselves is the reaction to them, and the risks that come from an incorrect attempt to treat them.
That’s why knowing what NOT to do if you have bed bugs is as important as knowing what to do.
What about blood loss from bed bugs?
Since bed bugs consume human blood, you may be wondering if the amount of blood they eat can start to have adverse health effects. After all, a severe case of fleas can often cause anemia in pets.
Smaller animals, such as puppies and kittens, can even die from this. And now I’ve made myself sad.
The amount of blood an adult bed bug consumes is tiny, but if enough of them feed at once, the amount of blood they draw could start to cause problems – at least in theory.
To cause any harm to an adult, it would take around 25,000 bed bugs feeding at a time. But given these bug’s frightening reproductive rate, that’s not impossible.
There have been several cases reported of anemia caused by bed bug bites.
However, the chances of a human being killed by bed bugs are still basically nil. Especially since anybody who shares their home with 25,000 bed bugs without doing anything about it probably has deeper problems.
So…are bed bugs dangerous at all?
Bed bugs don’t spread disease and they can’t kill you. So what harm do bed bugs do?
When bed bugs bite, they often leave and itchy red welts behind. This is caused not so much by the bed bugs bite itself, but by the body’s reaction to it.
This reaction varies from person to person. Some people don’t react to bed bug bites at all. And before you go thinking they are the lucky ones, bear in mind that the welts the bed bugs cause are often the first sign of a bed bug infestation.
People who don’t react to bites often end up with worse bed bug problems than those who do, simply because they don’t realize there’s a problem.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are those unfortunate souls who have large-scale allergic reactions to bed bug bites.
While most people will become itchy at the site of the bed bugs bite – or even simply at the thought of bed bugs – some people have much more severe reactions.
Asthma, hives and anaphylaxis can all be triggered by bed bug bites. These kind of dangerous reactions are extremely rare, but they do happen.
Can you get sick from bed bugs?
Leaving aside the extremely rare cases of Chagas disease and severe allergies, most people who have bed bugs will take no more physical harm than the itchy red bites themselves.
But not all harm is physical. Although bed bugs can rarely make you physically ill, they can certainly make you sick. Mainly, it’s all in the mind.
Bed bugs have a way of getting inside of people’s heads as well as inside their beds.
Maybe it’s because you’re supposed to feel safe in the place where you sleep. But it’s extremely hard to get any quality sleep when you know the minute you close your eyes, tiny little vampires will begin to move towards you to suck your blood.
Bed bugs cause insomnia and stress which can either lead to or exacerbate pre-existing health conditions.
Add to that the amount of work it takes to treat a bed bug infestation successfully, and it’s no surprise to find that most people who have a bed bug infestation start to feel like they’re going a little crazy from time to time.
There should be a special term for the psychological damage bed bugs can do. Cimex psychosis? Crimson Rambler Fever?
Anyone who has dealt with bed bugs will be familiar with the toll it takes on their general well-being. Bed bugs can cause feelings of shame and isolation, as people try to avoid spreading the problem by withdrawing from society.
They can make you afraid to go to your own home, afraid to go to movie theaters or coffee shops or anywhere that bed bugs could be lurking – which is almost anywhere.
And having a bed bug infestation is something you never really forget. You’ll start to envy those who don’t know that these creatures exist. The kind of people who don’t need to obsessively check the mattress of any hotel room or friend’s house they stay at.
The kind of people who don’t worry every time they get a single mosquito bite or pimple, terrified that the bed bugs have somehow come back. Those of us who know the harm that bed bugs can do can never unlearn the knowledge.
Just remember you’re not alone; bed bugs can make us all go a little crazy. And take a moment to see the silver lining – at least they can’t technically kill us.