FAQ: Are bedbugs a health issue?

by nobugsonme on October 18, 2006 · 8 comments

in bed bugs, information and help, misdiagnoses, signs and symptoms of bed bugs

At bedbugger, we love, love, love articles that claim bedbugs are a nuisance, but not really a health issue (not right now, anyway). Not a health issue? Is anxiety a health issue? Loss of sleep? Allergic reactions (not common, but I have one)?

Road rage? Air rage? Going postal?

Wait until we start seeing cases of bedbug rage. Listen, this bug will make you madder than working for the US Postal Service, driving on the LA freeways, and waiting all day in an airport line just to have your toothpaste conviscated and your flight cancelled. Wrap that up and multiply by 100.

But I digress.

The important thing to remember is that certain outlets are recognizing bedbug infestations as a health concern: the Mayo Clinic, and the Allegheny County Health Department, which says:

While bedbugs have been known to harbor pathogens in their bodies, including plague and hepatitis B, they have not been linked to the transmission of any disease and are not regarded as a medical threat. Some individuals, however, can get skin infections and scars from scratching bites. While bedbugs are not regarded as a vector of transmissible diseases, they are a serious stressor and will create a lot of alarm and distress. With some individuals, it may precipitate mild to moderate cases of delusional parasitosis.

Until if, and when, we see Hepatitis or something even worse being transmitted by these monsters, it all comes back to mental health. I am not discounting the possibilities of delusional parasitosis, but keep in mind that many of us do not get taken seriously when we first turn up in the doctor’s office with bedbug bites and stories of bites from insects many of us can’t see, or at least don’t see for a long time. In other words, some people will assume it is, on some level, a mental health issue. (Because every day people who are imagining little-insects-they-can’t-see constantly biting them do come to doctors.)

On the other hand, anxiety and the stress of deadling with this issue, which can take up all your time and energy and seem insurmountable at time, is very much a mental health issue. So it being extremely itchy and never getting any sleep–I’d say those are mental and physical health concerns. And they’re just the reactions most of us get.

Doctors treat us for scabies, send us to dermatologists to have our “skin condition” looked into. My doctor told me I did not have bedbugs: “you’d see them,” she said, “and these don’t look like bedbug bites anyway.”

They did not look like this, or this, or this. You’d forgive my doctor for not knowing they can also look like this; and sometimes they can be smaller versions of the same, and don’t photograph easily. I have a lot of those right now.

And that sent me away to hope she was right. (You know things are bad when you actually hope this is burrowed under your skin and causing your problems.)

A long dark night spent covered in Elimite later, and I was still wondering. But that scabies cream (pyrethroids) gave me a fever and made my skin really itch. And still, weeks later, the doctor was sure I didn’t have bedbugs.

The bottom line is that they are a health issue. And if you came here to find out if you have them, well, yes– ask your doctor. Maybe s/he will recognize the bites. Look high and low, not just on your mattress or under the bed frame. Look behond pictures, in closets, in cracks, in deep, murky corners. Look under switchplates and light fixtures. And even then, you may come up with nothing. Ask a pest control operator to look. And remember that it’s possible to breed a colony for months before you ever see one.

The people who aren’t allergic can’t do anything until they see one. I guess on some level we should be grateful we have some kind of warning. I just wish it did not itch so very badly…

1 Caryn October 18, 2006 at 2:12 pm

Have you seen that new WebMD commercial with people talking about different ailments they’ve had (and presumably looked up on WebMD)? One of the women says, “My roommate has bedbugs.” So I guess WebMD considers it a health issue. (And so do I, of course. A mental health issue. Seriously. Traumatizing. People have no idea.)

2 nobugsonme October 18, 2006 at 3:12 pm

Yes– I was folding my laundry into XL ziplocs at the laundromat when that commercial came on! Good for webmd.

3 wantmyskinback April 18, 2007 at 1:00 pm

There are some excellent photos in this past article—that are relevant to today’s World Exclusive Story by S.

4 nobugsonme December 11, 2007 at 3:42 am

promoted to “FAQ: Are bed bugs a health issue?” under
Bed bugs, health, skin and bites

5 sososad February 3, 2009 at 9:41 pm

SO, having suffered unbelievably TWICE with scabies I got from friends who were staying in hostels in Europe, (I didn’t even get the fun of that) I am INCREDIBLY glad that I don’t have that again, I think I would rather have it be bed bugs. Elimite as a treatment if you only might have scabies is a HORRIBLE idea, that stuff is really unpleasant, and you still have to wash everything and bag everything and so on to get rid of scabies.

At the moment I’m still hoping that it’s something else, folliculitis or my cat has fleas (OMG what am I going to do with my cat if it’s bedbugs!?!?!) or anything other than scabies or bed bugs. BUT, I am pretty sure it’s bedbugs, it started right after I got back from vacation on 1/26 and a few new ones show up every morning. What a nightmare.

6 nobugsonme February 6, 2009 at 1:35 am


I have had the delightful Elimite experience described above. You are right it is not pleasant.

However, I still personally think bed bugs are worse than scabies.

I hope you are ruling out folliculitis, fleas and other conditions. If you need support or tips from others, please do come to the forums:


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