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Bedbugs with ‘superbug’ germ found

May 13, 2011


We’ve all heard the expression “don’t let the bed bugs bite.” Well that’s exactly what they do, and a new study shows some of them may be carrying a staph infection superbug.

First of all the study is very small and preliminary. Canadian scientists found drug-resistant staph bacteria in bedbugs at a hospital in British Columbia. Experts say while the bugs cause a lot of discomfort they have not been known to spread disease. Just the word bedbug gives a lot of people the willies.

The small pests were nearly wiped out 70 years ago, but they are once again a growing problem.

Karen Christie is an infection preventionist with ProMedica. She says, “In the state of Ohio, we’ve seen a real increase and part of the reason for that is they are resistant to some of the pesticides that are used to treat and kill bedbugs.”

The Centers for Disease Control released a study on the potential bedbug superbug this week. Doctors at a Vancouver hospital did research after seeing a spike in bedbugs and staph infections from a neighborhood near the hospital. Five bed bugs were crushed and analyzed. Methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus or MRSA was found on three of the bugs. MRSA is resistant to several kinds of common anti-biotics and can become deadly if it gets through the skin and into the bloodstream.

Two of the bedbugs had a less dangerous form of anti-biotic resistant bacteria. Both germs are commonly found in hospitals and experts have been more concerned about health care workers spreading the bacteria than insects.

Christie says, “That is preliminary data. A lot more research has to be done to definitively say if the bed bugs are spreading disease or not,”

But bedbugs often cause itching that in turn can lead to excessive scratching. The scratching can cause breaks in the skin that make people more susceptible to the germs.

It is not clear if the bacteria originated with the bedbugs or if the bugs picked it up from already infected people. “If somebody has MRSA on their skin and a bedbug is crawling on their skin and piercing it, I think there’s a lot of unanswered questions,” says Christie.

Bedbugs have developed some resistance to pesticides so it may take a professional more than one treatment to get them under control. Christie says one thing they can’t take is heat, so if you suspect you have some on your clothes, wash them in at least 120 degree water and then put them in the dryer on hot. But if they’ve made it off your clothes and into your home, they can spread quickly.

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