Bed bug bites may make hospital patients more vulnerable to MRSA

by nobugsonme on November 8, 2010 · 11 comments

in bed bug bites, bed bug research, bed bugs, hospitals

[This post refers to a Crain’s New York story which we now know contains inaccurate quotes. Please see corrections in the Update below.]

This is scary not quite as scary as the article implies: Cornell entomologist Dr. Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann believes that there’s notes there may be a link between patients experiencing bed bug bites in a hospital, and coming down with MRSA.

Crain’s New York reports (free registration required):

Cornell University scientist Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an entomologist who specializes in the study of bedbugs, says she is convinced there is a link between patients getting bitten by bedbugs and coming down with these dangerous and even lethal infections. Though called methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, the strain also resists penicillin and several other popular antibiotics.

“What we are starting to see is that hospitals just cannot get rid of MRSA until they get rid of bedbugs,” said Ms. Gangloff-Kaufmann, who has a PhD in the study of insects. It’s not that bedbugs harbor staph in their blood and transmit it by biting, the way mosquitoes do with viruses, she says. Rather, bedbug bites can create hiding places where MRSA can take hold.

That scenario makes sense to Philip Tierno, director of clinical microbiology and immunology at NYU Langone Medical Center—at least in theory. “It’s just common sense. But I’d like to see a study,” he said. Though Mr. Tierno says his own hospital has no bedbugs, he has studied their habits.

It’s really important to reiterate that while bed bugs certainly do cause health problems, they are not known to transmit any viruses. The key here is that bed bug bites may make patients vulnerable to infection by the MRSA virus present in the environment.

(And, by the way, it’s pretty hard to say one’s hospital is entirely bed bug-free, since any patient, visitor, employee or delivery can carry them in at any moment.)

The article also cites Dr. Belinda Ostrowsky, director of Montefiore Medical Center’s antimicrobial stewardship program, who said “Theoretically, any breaks in the skin could lead to an infection,” but noted the lack of studies or known cases.

I really hope that Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann gets funded to do such a study, as it would potentially help hospitals save a lot of lives. With knowledge comes power.

(Thanks to mangycur for the tip!)

Update (11/9):

Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann commented below,

For the record!!!!….I do not firmly believe this, as the reporter suggests. I only speculate about it because I think the opportunity exists, but we do not know for sure. I didn’t make the statement that claims that hospitals can’t get rid of MRSA because they can’t get rid of bed bugs. I don’t have that information and I don’t deal with hospitals.

Thank you, Dr. Gangloff-Kaufmann, for the correction.

This is a good example of a media outlet (in this case Crain’s) misrepresenting their sources in order to create a more sensational story.

My apologies for helping spread it further.

1 parakeets November 9, 2010 at 9:48 am

Wow, this opens a can of worms, so to speak. I forsee the need for bed bug education in hospitals and I’ve always wondered if OSHA might get involved in things like this since a hospital is a work environment. At least the word is getting out. I went to a sleep health center affiliated with a hospital. Even though 8 new patients came and slept there nightly for sleep studies, they had no bed bug prevention plan in place and in fact showed no knowledge of bed bugs. Their manager posted on-line that they couldn’t have bed bugs since they cleaned the rooms and washed the sheets every night.

2 JLGK November 9, 2010 at 10:57 am

For the record!!!!….I do not firmly believe this, as the reporter suggests. I only speculate about it because I think the opportunity exists, but we do not know for sure. I didn’t make the statement that claims that hospitals can’t get rid of MRSA because they can’t get rid of bed bugs. I don’t have that information and I don’t deal with hospitals.

3 Winston O. Buggy November 9, 2010 at 11:15 am

Please understand that this is a theoretical avenue for research and not a drawn
conclusion and it is also important to realize the difference. In addition this article contains quotes and draws conclusions which Dr. Ganloff-Kaufmann did not make and noted as such in the comments section where the article originally appeared as well as on this site. It is unfortunate how often those of us who have to deal with the media do so with trepidation as to what will actually appear. Of course the headlines are captivating but are they true. What is the cost to those misquoted and what is the damage to the public psyche.
Years ago when a grant was sought to explore the possibility if HIV transmission by mosquitoes it was reported at first as a conclusion and not as an avenue of study which proved they do not.

4 nobugsonme November 9, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Hi Dr. Gangloff-Kaufmann,

Thanks for the correction, and I have edited the story above to cross out the misquotes which Crain’s published.

I’m sorry if we added any fuel to the hype.

5 nobugsonme November 9, 2010 at 7:12 pm

Hi Winston,

As I think you’re aware, it isn’t my intention to spread incorrect information or contribute to any media hysteria about bed bugs.

I do understand how frustrating it is when one is misquoted in the press, and I’ve made the corrections above as quickly as I was able to once the errors in the Crain’s article were brought to my attention.

I apologize for not first seeing Dr. Gangloff-Kaufmann’s comment on the Crain’s site, but I also think that the editors of that publication should do the responsible thing and take responsibility for their errors by publishing a correction on the article itself.

6 Winston O. Buggy November 9, 2010 at 7:37 pm

Buenos noches Nobugs, Please note that none of the above media comments addressed to the Fourth Estate were aimed at or included you; apologies if it seemed that way.
Winston O.

7 nobugsonme November 9, 2010 at 8:50 pm

Thanks, Winston!

8 Doug Summers MS November 10, 2010 at 10:19 am

Clearly we need further research into the issue of mechanical transmission of human disease with regard to bed bug bite wounds.

The hypothesis about MRSA and bite wounds should be evaluated thoroughly. I am not aware of any published studies that directly address this subject area.

Hospital data should be a sensitive indicator that can be used to provide empirical evidence about the potential for mechanical transmission of MRSA and other pathogens

9 Lieutenantdan November 11, 2010 at 2:33 pm

I believe now and I have believed since 2006 that some day we will find that bed bugs
can and do spread disease. It only makes sense that bites can become infected opening up your system to whatever can be lurking around. Hopefully more funds will become available for research on bed bugs. I still believe that certain restrictions be lifted on pesticides even with the knowledge that some bed bugs have become resistant. I believe that to battle bed bugs successfully we need an arsenal of weapons and the diluted modern day pesticides in use today apparently just do not cut it. When I was at WAR I would have given almost anything for some stronger pesticide. I am not sure what other ingredients are in pesticides beside the .5% chemical. Probably mostly water.

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