Bed bugs are small parasitic insects that feed solely on blood, preferably human blood. Bed bugs typically feed when their host is asleep, biting the host’s exposed areas such as the face, neck, arms, and legs. After piercing the host’s exposed skin, the bug injects a salivary fluid containing an anticoagulant that helps it obtain blood. The bite itself is relatively painless, but the injected salivary fluid is responsible for considerable localized and, occasionally, systemic reactions, although individuals differ in their sensitivity. The majority of humans (70%) have allergic reactions to bed bug bites and experience inflamed swollen welts and itching, sometimes very intense, that last for hours to days. Scratching can cause the welts to become infected due to secondary bacterial agents, which may result in eczematoid dermatitis, cellulitis, impetigo, and pyoderma. Severe bed bug infestations can initiate iron-deficiency anemia due to significant blood loss. Systemic reactions from bed bug bites occasionally are reported. These include asthma, generalized urticaria, and anaphylaxis. For example, bed bug infestations are associated with airborne allergens that may produce bronchial asthma. Furthermore, a variety of physiological and psychological responses often is experienced by those dealing with bed bug infestations. Anxiety, stress, insomnia, and depression are common responses to bed bug infestations, and such medically important symptoms can lead to other health conditions. In fact, routine exposure to bed bug bites may make a person more susceptible to common diseases.
Frequent bed bug bites have resulted in “sensitivity syndrome,” which is characterized by nervousness, jumpiness, and sleeplessness. Feelings of social stigmatization, anger, frustration, paranoia, embarrassment, and devastation also are reported by those living with bed bugs. With such an array of health effects caused by bed bugs, how can any local public health jurisdiction justify an indifference to the plight of bed bug victims?
Bed bugs were officially designated as a public health pest in Pesticide Registration Notice 2002, which was jointly issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In August 2010, these federal agencies issued a joint statement declaring bed bugs to be “a pest of significant public health importance.” The reemergence of bed bugs throughout the world poses a new challenge in modern public health since these small blood-feeding insects closely interact with humans and now are recognized at the federal level as an important environmental and public health issue.
The above is an excerpt from Bed Bugs, Public Health, and Social Justice: Part 1, a Call to Action
by Christopher Eddy, MPH, rEHS, rS and Susan C. Jones, PhD.