A common question we hear is whether or not bed bugs can be harmful to a person’s health. Some health concerns go as far as fear of one’s life. But can a bed bug infestation really result in death? Let’s explore the facts and the possibilities:
First off, while bed bug bites are a nuisance, and they often result in itching and burning, they are not known to transmit disease or pose any serious health risks. Of course, this could be proven wrong in the future, as we know very little about bed bugs at this time. The most common health issues associated with bed bugs are sleep deprivation, insomnia, and stress, which can sometimes be severe enough to result in post-traumatic stress disorder after experiencing an infestation.
Unfortunately, some cases of bed bug infestations can result in injury. This is usually a result of improper treatment attempts, either by the resident or by a pest control operator. Overexposure to any pesticide can be harmful, and can be made even worse by poor ventilation or by pre-existing health conditions. Injuries and poisonings are an important reminder that you must always follow the product label and MSDS whenever you are using an insecticide.
According to a CDC report published in 2011, there has only been one death attributed to a bed bug infestation. In 2010, an elderly North Carolina couple attempted to treat a bed bug problem in their home. First, they sprayed their baseboards, walls, and bed with two insecticides, neither of which were registered for use against bed bugs. Later that day, they released nine cans of insecticide fogger.
A couple of days later, they resprayed around the bed and released another nine cans of fogger. In addition to that second treatment attempt, the woman sprayed her arms, chest, and hair with a flea insecticide, and covered her hair with a shower cap to keep the insecticide there. Shortly after, the woman was taken to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. She was 65 years old, and had a lengthy history of pre-existing medical conditions, including kidney failure, heart attack, diabetes, hypertension, and depression. She was taking at least 10 medications at the time of exposure, according to the report.
This case is a tragic example of people panicking and taking drastic action against a bed bug infestation without doing the proper research and without following the instructions on the products they used. Bed bugs are certainly stressful to deal with, but it’s extremely important to stay calm and take all necessary precautions, especially when handling insecticides.
Other mishandlings of insecticides mentioned in the report (and attributed to injuries and poisonings) included mass quantities of insect repellent, as well as use of agricultural and outdoor pesticides inside a house.
If you’re in the mood for some light reading, the 2,000-word CDC report can be found here.