Bed bugs can transmit Chagas disease

Posted Nov 23, 2014 by Tim Sandle
Disturbingly, a new study suggests that bed bugs (such as triatomines) can transmit Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease.
A Common Bed Bug
Cimex lectularius, more frequently known as the bed bug, lives off the blood of human beings
Public Domain
Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) is spread to people through the feces of blood-sucking triatomine insects. Symptoms can range from weak to severe, and manifest as fever, fatigue, body aches, and serious cardiac and intestinal complications. As Digital Journal has reported, incidents of the disease are rising in the U.S. The main vector is the kissing bug.
The new research has surprised many because bed bugs are usually considered disease-free pests, leaving victims with only itchy welts from bites. At the same time the link is probable because bed bugs are closely related cousins to kissing bugs. The main difference is that bed bugs are harder to kill.
The association was uncovered through a series of experiments. In study one; scientists exposed 10 mice infected with the Chagas disease parasite to 20 uninfected bed bugs. This was undertaken every three days over the course of a month. From the 2,000 bed bugs used in the experiment, the majority picked up the T. cruzi parasite after feeding on the mice. In the second study, designed to test transmission from bug to mouse, the research found that nine out of 12 uninfected mice acquired the parasite after each one lived for 30 days with 20 infected bed bugs.
With the final study, the researchers were able to infect mice by placing feces of infected bed bugs on the animal's skin that had inflamed by bed bug bites. Here, four out of 10 rodents became infected with the parasite.
All of this is, of course, theoretical. It remains to be seen whether bed bugs become a major player in the transmission of the disease.
The study was carried out by the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics. The findings have been published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, in a study titled “Bed Bugs (Cimex lectularius) as Vectors of Trypanosoma cruzi.”