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Bed Bugs: Health Impacts, Treatments, and Prevention

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Bed Bugs: Health Impacts, Treatments, and Prevention

Your skin may already be crawling at the mention of bed bugs, but these pesky pests seem to be an increasing problem here in Toronto.  Due to their highly mobile and resilient nature, bed bugs are a serious public health issue. On this week’s blog The Medical Station discusses the health impacts of these pests, how to get rid of them, and how to prevent bed bugs in the future.

Bed Bugs

Bed bugs, more scientifically known as Cimex lectularius, are reddish brown, flat, oval, and relatively small (adult bed bugs are typically 5 mm long) parasitic insects – they look like a small (extremely unappealing) apple seeds. Bed bugs inhabit mattresses, furniture, and other fabrics and warm spaces. They feed on blood and cause itchy bites on humans and pets. Bed bugs typically feed on blood every five to ten days; they are, however, unfortunately resilient and can survive up to a year without feeding. They multiply quickly and can travel easily.

Bed Bug Bites

The hallmarks of bed bugs are the itchy, red, and sometimes welt-like bites they leave on your skin. You likely will not feel a bed bug biting you (as it is relatively painless and they typically feed during night time), but you may wake up to the unwanted and irritated bites. In some cases, however, it can take up to 14 days for a bite to become visible or bothersome. Bed bugs will bite any exposed skin (unlike other pests which may favour a specific body part). The bites may be lined up in a row, but they are often indistinguishable from other insect bites. The Medical Station recommends using anti-itch creams as necessary and suggests you avoid scratching (as much as possible) to prevent infection.

Psychosocial Impacts of Bed Bugs

Although the bites can be extremely irritating, there are no serious physical health concerns associated with bed bugs as they do not transmit diseases to humans. There is, however, growing evidence demonstrating the severe psychological, emotional, and social impacts that accompany a bed bug infestation.

There is a common misconception that bed bugs only inhabit dirty or unclean homes. This myth results in a stigma associated with bed bugs that can cause social isolation and loneliness among those who have bed bugs. People with active infestations can also suffer from stress, anxiety, depression and paranoia. Many sufferers also experience troubled or reduced sleep. A recent study has demonstrated the links between bed bugs and serious mental illness – the study found that bed bugs can trigger the onset of psychosis or can act as a destabilizing factor for people with existing mental illness.

Getting Rid of Beg Bugs

The earlier you can identify an infestation, the easier it is to eradicate the bed bugs. Unfortunately, however, getting rid of bed bugs can be a time consuming and expensive ordeal. The most effective strategies require coordination of a number of activities. Some of these approaches include:

  • Chemical treatments – we recommend hiring a licensed professional pest control operator (and ensuring the chemicals used are safe!)
  • Heat treatments
  • Clean all bedding, linens, and clothing in hot water and dry them on the highest setting
  • For items that can’t be washed, put them in the dryer on high for 30 minutes

For more tips and strategies, visit the Health Canada webpage.

Preventing Bed Bugs

Health Canada offers a number of tips for preventing bed bugs that we at The Medical Station would like to echo:

  • Be wary of used furniture, beds, or fabrics – check for bugs before bringing any of these items into your home
  • Use a protective cover on your mattress and box spring
  • Vacuum frequently
  • Get rid of clutter and fix any cracks or crevices
  • Check for bed bugs regularly
  • Consult the online bed bug registry to find out about past or current infestations

The Medical Station knows how upsetting and damaging bed bugs can be. Our Physicians and Social Workers can help manage and treat the physical and psychosocial impacts of bed bugs. If you are concerned that you may have a bed bug infestation, The Medical Station strongly urges you to contact Toronto Public Health and pursue treatment.

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