Bedbugs are back. And more than just creepy-crawly pests, scientists now worry that the parasites might be connected with a much more serious bug: A particularly nasty bacterium called MRSA.
Researchers in Canada recently conducted a study in an area of Vancouver that has both a large bedbug infestation and numerous reports of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA. And in small sample of bedbugs collected from patients at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, they found three bedbug carrying the MRSA bacteria. Two other bugs were contaminated with a less dangerous superbug called vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium.
Dr. Marc Romney, a medical microbiologist at St. Paul's Hospital/Providence Health Care told Reuters, "I was a little surprised. Historically, bedbugs have not been associated with infections."
But is there a real health risk from bedbugs? Do consumers have to worry that the bedbugs that might be hiding in beds of homes and hotels across the U.S. may now be infecting unsuspecting sleepers with life-threatening bacteria immune to antibiotics?
Although the research report has been peer-reviewed and published in a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal, experts—including Dr. Romney— point out that the findings are very preliminary.
For one, the researchers acknowledge that the sample was extremely small. And, it's still unknown if the bedbugs had infected the patients with the bacteria, or did the pests pick them up from the hosts. What's more, Gail Getty, a research entomologist at University of California, Berkeley, told Time:
To the best of my knowledge, we have not seen any research that has proven bed bugs have been able to pass diseases to their human hosts. Although they do carry pathogens, there is no single scientific study that has proven a transfer.