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The bed bugs bite, but they won't spread disease (HIV), report says
  Bloomberg News
Sleep tight even if the bed bugs bite: the increasingly common apple seed-sized pest doesn't spread diseases such as yellow fever, HIV, hepatitis B and cancer, a report says.
The vermin can cause allergic reactions in their victims through bites, as well as blister-like skin infections, and, in rare cases, asthma and anaphylactic shock, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Bed bugs were nearly eliminated in the U.S. 60 years ago, with the pesticide DDT, said Jerome Goddard, one of the authors of the analysis. Now, due to increased international travel, immigration, and resistance to pesticides in the pests, they're on the rise again. Infestations doubled in San Francisco from 2004 to 2006, and the number of samples submitted to the Australian government increased 400 percent from 2001 to 2004, compared with 1997 through 2000, according to background information in the article.
"Bed bugs are getting worse, by any measure," said Goddard, an entomologist at Mississippi State University. "They're certainly a nuisance, they're bloodsucking pests and no one likes that, but you don't have to worry about disease transmission if you get bit by bed bugs in a hotel room or something."
There were 22,218 calls for bed bug-related information to New York's 311 information line in 2008, compared with 13,322 in 2006. There have been 6,128 calls in 2009 to date, said Nick Sbordone, spokesman for the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunication in New York, which oversees the service.
'Some Reassurance'
"The numbers as measured by complaints have risen precipitously, said Dan Kass, the assistant commissioner for environmental policy at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. He wasn't involved in the report, which "provides some reassurance among public concern and rightful fear, that bed bugs don't play a role in disease."
The report surveyed 53 studies on the health effects of bed bugs, as well as pest control and eradication of the vermin. Though some studies found that viruses such as hepatitis B and HIV can be detected in the bugs after a meal, there is no evidence the viruses reproduce or spread.
An experiment with chimpanzees who were bitten by bugs fed blood with hepatitis B showed that the primates didn't even develop antibodies, much less disease, the authors wrote in the report. A 2-year bed bug eradication project in Gambia didn't affect rates of hepatitis B, even with a 100 percent reduction in the pests.
Search Patrol
The best way to prevent bites from bed bugs is avoiding them, as no repellent has been shown to be effective, the report found. Travelers sleeping in hotels or other environments should check for bed bugs, particularly along mattress cords, crevices in box springs, and along the back of headboards to avoid being bitten.
"When I check in to a hotel, I don't throw my stuff on the bed and go about my business," said Goddard. "I put my stuff on the bathroom floor first and then go look at the mattress for bedbugs. If I see signs, I go ask for another room."
Used furniture is another vector for the bugs' spread, Goddard said. The creatures are "extremely difficult" to eradicate once they've infested, the report found, often requiring multiple visits from pest control.
The report "does reconfirm feelings that bed bugs are miserable creatures that make everyone's lives worse," said Kass. "It's easy to get anxious about this."
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