Remember the concern raised last year that bed bug bites (like other breaks in the skin) may make hospital patients more susceptible to MRSA?
Now, researchers have found methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE) — a less dangerous form of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — in bed bugs removed from the bodies of three patients who were residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
In a letter to the CDC journal Emerging Infectious Diseases (PDF), researchers Marc G. Romney and Christopher F. Lowe conclude,
Bedbugs carrying MRSA and/or VRE may have the potential to act as vectors for transmission. Further studies are needed to characterize the association between S. aureus and
bedbugs. Bedbug carriage of MRSA, and the portal of entry provided through feeding, suggests a plausible potential mechanism for passive transmission of bacteria during a blood meal. Because of the insect’s ability to compromise the skin integrity of its host, and the propensity for S. aureus to invade damaged skin, bedbugs may serve to amplify MRSA infections in impoverished urban communities.
Source: Lowe CF, Romney MG. Bedbugs as vectors for drug-resistant bacteria [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis. 2011 Jun; [Epub ahead of print]
Lowe and Romney also note that bed bugs and MRSA are both significant problems in the Downtown Eastside, where these patients live. A 2008 City of Vancouver Study found 31% of DTES residents have reported bed bugs, and patients from the area also have a high rate of MRSA colonization or infection.
I fear the media focus on this story may eventually get watered down until people are thinking, “Oh my God, bed bugs spread MRSA, I have bed bugs and I am going to die!”
However, that’s not the message we should be taking from this research.
Rather, as the researchers note, “…these insects may act as a hidden environmental reservoir for MRSA and may promote the spread of MRSA in impoverished and overcrowded communities.”
This potential disease vector is not a reason to panic, but is a very real concern and a reason for communities to focus on halting the spread of bed bugs.