Bed bugs were nearly eradicated from North America in the 1950’s with the use of DDT and other insecticides. Since the 1990’s, however, bed bugs have been making a strong come back into our cities due to several factors such as increased world travel and second hand furniture.
With bed bugs making their way back into our homes it is important to know the risks involved when they are present. The first sign of having bed bugs is the obvious bite marks that they leave on your skin while you are asleep. Although their bites leave ugly marks on your skin that can be very itchy, the physical dangers caused by bed bugs are rarely a serious concern.
One of the implications of having bed bugs, which until recently went somewhat unnoticed, is the psychological distress that they can cause. In extreme cases, some bed bug victims have even been known to become suicidal over the infestation.
Physical dangers of having bed bugs
As with most other insects that bite humans and feed on our blood, one of the main concerns tend to be the spread of disease. There is currently no scientific evidence, however, which suggests that bed bugs spread disease.
The physical dangers associated with bed bugs depend on how each individuals’ body reacts to the bites which can vary quite drastically from host to host. For example, some people may not have any signs of being bitten while others may experience small bite marks and in some cases can even have a serious allergic reaction. Some people may become very itchy from bed bug bites which can lead to secondary skin infections if they scratch it excessively.
In rare cases people have experienced asthmatic reactions from the skin that bed bugs shed when entering into a new stage of their life.
If you notice these bite marks on your skin but don’t remember being bitten during the day, there is a high chance that you are living with bed bugs and should consult a professional immediately.
Psychological implications of a bed bug infestation
Although the physical dangers of having bed bugs are rarely a major concern, the same cannot be said about the psychological impact that these parasites can inflict on their hosts. For example, just the thought of having bed bugs can cause sleep deprivation from knowing that these little critters are going to attack you once you fall asleep.
Sharon Younger, a Toronto resident who has had an encounter with bed bugs, claims that sleep deprivation is the worst symptom of having bed bugs, mentioning that you are always afraid to go to sleep, which can change your personality severely if the problem persists.
Early study’s on the psychological impact of dealing with bed bugs
The first scientific evidence of the psychological impact was from a Canadian study that was conducted to evaluate the mental health implications that a bed bug infestation can have on it’s host. This study concluded that residents whose homes have been infested by bed bugs are much more likely than others to experience anxiety disorders, trouble sleeping, and in some cases even depression.
The reason bed bugs can have negative psychological effects on their hosts, according to Dr. Stéphane Perron, is that people with infested bedrooms are aware of the bugs presence and also know that they will be bitten while they sleep but can’t do anything to defend themselves.
The study compared two tests groups of people living in different housing complexes within the same city. Both complexes were deemed to have unfit housing conditions according to the public health office, however, only one of the complexes had a bed bug infestation. The test concluded that the people who were exposed to bed bugs were five times more likely to experience anxiety disorders and sleep deprivation.
In another study that took place in 2011, scientists concluded that the mental implications of having bed bugs can cause serious problems leading to suicide and psychiatric hospitalization. Since bed bugs are so difficult to detect the process to get rid of them can be very stressful because it requires constantly washing your sheets and hiring a professional to spray your home.
There is also a social stigma associated with having bed bugs since they are easily transferred from one place to another. Once friends and family become aware of the problem, victims felt social isolation which can contribute to anxiety and depression
One of the most extreme cases in the study was a 21 year old woman with no pre-existing mental or physical conditions who developed anxiety and depression when she discovered bed bugs in her house. As a result of this depression she increased her alcohol consumption and one day was rushed to the hospital after over dosing on over-the-counter pain medication in a suicide attempt.
Bed bug infestations have become an increasing concern in North America. In order to avoid dealing with the implications that bed bugs can have on your life it would be best to steer clear of these pests by getting as much information as possible about them.
Also, make sure to check the bed bug registry to determine if previous residents had any run ins with these pests before moving into a new home.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Parasites – Bed Bugs – January 10, 2013
 Scientific American – What are Bed Bugs? Are they Dangerous? – February 27, 2009
 National Post – Bed bugs cause more than just itching – They can lead to serious mental health problems too, study finds – October 9, 2012