The bad news keeps coming on the bedbug front. The blood-sucking mattress dwellers are typically thought of as a major nuisance, not a public health threat, but a new study has found that they might help transmit disease. Here, a brief guide:
What did the study find?
Researchers found bedbugs that were carrying staph "superbugs" on three patients at a hospital in a poor area of Vancouver. Five bedbugs were collected and found to be carrying two types of drug-resistant bacteria. While there's no evidence that the bedbugs were spreading the germs, the researchers couldn't rule that out. That makes the preliminary study's findings "intriguing," says one of the scientists.
What bacteria were the bugs carrying?
Three of the bugs were found to have methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as "flesh-eating bacteria" or MSRA for short. The bacteria has increasingly become a problem in hospitals. It's resistant to many antibiotics, easily spread through casual contact, and capable of causing serious health issues, including disfiguring abscesses and even death if it enters the bloodstream. The other two bugs had vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium, or VRE, a less dangerous bacteria also common in hospitals.
How freaked out by this should we be?
The study was small and therefore not conclusive, so it will take more research to determine whether this is as scary as it sounds. It's still unclear whether the bedbugs infected the humans, or the other way around. "While the work was well done and it shows an association," says Robert Wirtz of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Center for Global Health, "it doesn't establish that bedbugs are capable of transmitting the bacteria." Still, the study does give public-health officials something to think about, says Marc Romney, one of the authors. "It suggests that bedbugs may be playing a role in the transmission of MRSA in inner-city populations where bedbug infestations are a problem."
Why did researchers decide to look into this in the first place?
Romney and his colleagues had noticed a "simultaneous boom" in both bedbugs and MSRA infections in the neighborhood.
Where do we go from here?
Wirtz says researchers should now study if bedbugs are capable of transmitting MSRA or VRE to an uninfected system.