In a study published online recently in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, researchers from Penn Medicine's Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics found that bed bugs are able to transmit Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease, a parasitic infection, in a laboratory setting. Researchers conducted a series of laboratory experiments that demonstrated bi-directional transmission of T. cruzi between laboratory mice and bed bugs, showing that bed bugs can both acquire and transmit the parasite.
A series of experiments conducted in controlled laboratory settings exposed bed bugs to mice infected with the parasite, and of the 2,000 bed bugs used in the experiment, the majority acquired T. cruzi after feeding on the mice. Another experiment found 9 out of 12 or 75 percent of uninfected mice acquired T. cruzi after cohabitating with infected bed bugs. A third experiment infected mice by placing feces of infected bed bugs directly on the animals' skin that had either been inflamed from bites or scraped with a needle. This exercise found 40 percent of mice acquired the parasite from a skin scrape and 20 percent were infected when the skin was only broken by the insects' bites.
Chagas disease, one of the most prevalent and deadliest diseases in the Americas, is a growing problem in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are approximately 300,000 human cases of Chagas disease in the U.S. As bed bugs have more frequent contact with people than kissing bugs, the current perpetrator and known vector of Chagas, this new discovery raises the alarm and speaks to the need for more research to be conducted.
The Penn Medicine report is important because it adds to the case of bed bugs being of significant public health importance. However, it's important to also note that the study did not examine or indicate any direct transmission of disease to human hosts. More research is needed into these transient pests to fully understand the applications of this study to human health. It is important for people to understand the biology and habitats of bed bugs and to be vigilant to help protect against the spread of bed bugs by routinely inspecting and monitoring for this pest and contacting a pest management professional where bed bugs are suspected or confirmed.
In an effort to communicate true and accurate information, not based on speculation and fear, the NPMA and PPMA feel it is important to provide NPMA members with industry talking points should companies be contacted for comment by the media. These may also be helpful and serve as a communications tool when fielding customer inquires on the topic.
Industry Talking Points
Penn Medicine press release: http://www.uphs.upenn.edu/news/News_Releases/2014/11/levy/
Study published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene: http://www.ajtmh.org/content/early/2014/11/13/ajtmh.14-0483.full.pdf+html
NPMA's consumer site for bed bug prevention tips and resources: allthingsbedbugs.org