Bed bugs may act as “hidden environmental reservoir” for drug-resistant bacteria MRSA and VRE

by nobugsonme on May 11, 2011 · 15 comments

in bed bugs, british columbia, public health, vancouver

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.

See also CBC NewsThe Washington Post, and Salon for more on this story.

1 NotSoSnug May 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Finally something that may make Health Authorities and Government in general take bedbugs seriously.

I note the study uses Vancouver BC sampling. When I called the local BC Health authority staff here in my small city about my bedbug infestation in 2007, the person answering talked to someone off phone, then they both laughed, and I was told they weren’t interested in bedbugs. The BC Health website page on bedbugs currently minimizes any bedbug related health affects, and doesn’t even mention possible mental health issues.

2 Jessica May 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Bedbugger, I totally understand your emphasis on not overreacting to this news…but this is getting LOTS of attention on Twitter and I’m hoping this will finally (FINALLY!) wake people and officials up and we will get people scared and into action.

3 BugsInTO May 11, 2011 at 5:48 pm

I have often thought that bedbugs were a disease vector “waiting to happen”. Lots of things can carry bacteria from one surface to another. Shaking hands is a great example but it doesn’t mean that hands cause bacterial infections. The info above is saying “passive transmission” so it would seem that bedbugs doesn’t “host” the bacteria. Instead, the bedbug comes into contact with the bacteria and gets it on its “hands” and then “walks” the bacteria along with it. Nevertheless, I share the feeling that this bad news can still be good news in terms of improving efforts to combat them.

4 nobugsonme May 12, 2011 at 12:10 am

Hi Jessica,

I agree! I do hope people are concerned enough for agencies to take bed bugs seriously. As I said,

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.

That said, people tend to distort bed bug news, and that is never a good thing. Bed bugs cause enough hysteria without distorting this kind of story.

5 nobugsonme May 12, 2011 at 12:12 am

Hi NotSoSnug!

I would be interested to know if they had changed their tune more recently. Maybe not, but they will eventually.

In the US, lots of smaller towns are having to deal with bed bugs. I assume the same is happening in the Great White North too! (Okay, I know it’s spring, practically summer, and I doubt there’s any “white” involved in your current landscape, but I was visualizing Bob and Doug McKenzie…)

6 nobugsonme May 12, 2011 at 12:15 am

All that about the seasons reminded me to change the banner just now, in your honor, NotSoSnug!

7 supercalifragilisticexpialidocious May 12, 2011 at 6:28 am

Key sentence from the pdf:

“Despite investigations of transmissibility of numerous infectious agents, … to our
knowledge, no conclusive evidence has demonstrated disease transmission by bedbugs”

Also note that the link is to a Google url that loads the pdf, not to the pdf itself. At least on my browser, that means that clicking the link makes this page go away whereas clicking a direct pdf link doesn’t.

8 supercalifragilisticexpialidocious May 12, 2011 at 6:33 am
9 NotSoSnug May 13, 2011 at 1:01 am

Hi NoBugs! Sadly we still have piles of the white stuff here and there in shadowy corners. The leaves are a month late coming out and it can still get to freezing at night, yikes! We are only half way up BC! I’ll be heading up to the real north, above the arctic circle, in June. But I’ll be taking a 3 season sleeping bag just in case, you can be assured.

I noticed the banner, thanks! Must be spring in NYC. I’m jealous.

10 nobugsonme May 13, 2011 at 2:03 am

Hi Super,

Thanks — I know that’s the correct link, but it is leading an error page right now, at least for me.

Meanwhile, this Google link seems to still access the PDF, even if it unfortunately carries people away from this page.

11 Winston O. Buggy May 14, 2011 at 10:44 am

Somewhere the question of Are bed bugs ???? became a media statement of Bed bugs ARE!!!

12 Tarrabyte May 17, 2011 at 12:15 pm

It’s news that’s for sure. This could definitely lead to bed bugs being classified a Vector, and if that happens it will be a game changer. That would allow public health departments around the US to address the issue at the state level as a public health threat, and change funding for prevention and treatment. While I’m not hoping that anyone would be infected by bed bugs with MRSA I would love to hear a research report that confirms it’s possible. Public health is compromised in their ability to take action until they are labeled a true vector.


13 jeff May 24, 2011 at 7:41 pm

this was on treehugger today. Sweet Dreams: Bedbug Bites May Transmit MRSA Super Germs @TreeHugger w a link to the study and other resources.

14 inmyownmind June 23, 2011 at 2:42 pm

I am amazed that the treat of bed bugs transmitting diseases is not taken more seriously by health officals or the general public considering that every other insect that takes blood from humans in known to pass both viral and bacterial diseases to their hosts. You have fleas that were largely responsibe for the spread of plague, you have mosquitos who spread malaria and a wide viriety of other viruses throughout the world and then there are ticks who carry lymes disease and are only recently being held responsible for the transmission of bartonella which is a very scary bacteria that is hugely under studied. Why would bed bugs be excluded from this list?

15 nobugsonme June 24, 2011 at 4:05 am

Hi inmyownmind,

The issue, I think, is that while numerous studies have shown various viruses or bacteria to be present in bed bugs, there has been no evidence yet of transmission from bed bugs to humans. I do not doubt it is possible.

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