Health Matters: Bedbugs may play role in spread of drug-resistant bacteria

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Health Matters

HEADLINE: Bedbugs may play role in spread of drug-resistant bacteria MRSA, study finds
By Dr. Don Donahue, JR., DHEd, MBA, FACHE, Director, Firestorm Healthcare Response Team

SUMMARY: Previously thought to be just a nuisance, a recent study suggests that bedbugs might play a role in the transmission of certain diseases. A peer-reviewed study published online in a journal of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that some bedbugs collected from residents in crowded conditions in a poor neighborhood in Canada carried the drug-resistant bacterium MRSA. Bedbugs can live for months without a meal, hidden deep in mattress seams, baseboard cracks and clutter near beds. They travel easily, hitchhiking from person to person, city to city. They have turned up in college dorms, government buildings, offices and even luxury hotel.


ANALYSIS: One of the wonders of nature is the repetitiveness of patterns. Models of atoms and of solar systems are virtually indistinguishable. Certain human behaviors can be predicted by watching the actions of specific animals. In the 14th Century (and as late as 1890), the “Black Death” was spread not by ground rodents but by infected fleas carried by rats, mice, and marmots. It is not incomprehensible; therefore, that MRSA travels as a microscopic hitchhiker on Cimicidae (bedbugs).

The Canadian study indicates bedbugs are not infected with MRSA, but rather carry the bacterium (much as drinks on a serving tray). Still, this can contribute to human infection, particularly in close or crowded conditions such as homeless shelters, college dormitories, or group sleeping arrangements (camp cabins, youth hostels, etc.). Bedbugs are especially resilient, able to survive for long periods in extreme temperatures, wet or dry environments, and without food sources. MRSA bacteria can survive on surfaces for hours or even days under the right conditions.

Controlling or eliminating bedbugs currently involved a combination of chemical and mechanical approaches. Pesticides (pyrethroids, dichlorvos, and malathion) are used, although bedbugs are developing resistance to some chemicals and there are concerns about exposure to humans following indoor fumigation. Cleaning with a high efficiently or HEPA-equipped vacuum and heat treating or wrapping mattresses and cushions are also recommended. Bedbugs are present around the globe, prevalent in developing nations and increasingly widespread in the developed world. Watching for signs of their presence, timely action to eliminate infestation, and washing or cleaning clothes and luggage following travel can help keep bedbugs at bay. The MRSA threat from bedbugs may be slight, but it is a threat nonetheless. As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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