Thursday, November 20, 2014

Bedbugs may spread lethal disease: study

Kissing bugs (pictured) are cousins of bedbugs. As if bedbugs weren’t scary enough.

A new paper says that the little creatures could transmit the deadly Chagas disease, a common cause of death in Central and South America.

If bedbugs acquire and transmit Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease, they can transmit it through their feces, according to the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

“We’ve shown that the bedbug can acquire and transmit the parasite. Our next step is to determine whether they are, or will become, an important player in the epidemiology of Chagas disease,” said Dr. Michael Levy, assistant professor in the department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.

Chagas is normally carried by kissing bugs, who got their name because they like to bite around a person’s mouth. While they’re snacking, they often defecate, and because the bite itches, when people scratch it they spread the parasite and it could get into their body.

If the kissing bugs carried T. cruzi, the person could get Chagas and die via stealthy means caused by the bug, like heart disease or digestive failure.

Kissing bugs assault internal organs like the heart, with results that aren’t seen until decades after infection. Bedbugs are a cousin of kissing bugs, so scientists wanted to see if the same results would happen if a bed bug acquired the parasite.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia in Peru let 2,000 bedbugs feed on mice that were infected with T. cruzi.

The bedbugs were so full of T. cruzi at the end of the experiment that one scientist remarked he had “never seen so many parasites in an insect.”

Then, when those infected bugs snacked on uninfected mice, 9 out of the 12 had developed an infection. But don’t panic just yet.

The studies were done in labs, on mice, so we don’t know that bedbugs can actually transmit the disease, and do so to humans.

More research is needed, according to Dr. Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist and vice president of technical and regulatory affairs for the National Pest Management Association.

“Over the past several years we have learned more about bedbugs than ever before, but this latest research underscores that there’s a lot more to learn,” he told the Daily News.

Because the T. cruzi parasite can live in pets, and kissing bugs are thought to spread as the climate gets warmer, this problem could get worse in time.

The National Pest Management Association recommends inspecting mattress seams — particularly at corners — headboards, sofas and chairs for bedbugs, especially when traveling, and inspecting suitcases upon a return home because bedbugs travel by hitching rides.

It also recommends washing all clothes packed — even those not worn — in hot water after returning from a trip to kill any lingering bugs. Source
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