Until recent years, bed bugs were no longer considered much of a problem in the U.S. -- and the saying "Don't let the bed bugs bite" was just an old-fashioned phrase whose meaning was almost forgotten -- but then bed bugs made a comeback. The bed bug, or Cimex lectularius, gets its nickname from the fact that it often makes its home in people's beds. Although bed bugs bite and feed on human blood, according to research published in JAMA in 2009, they are not known transmit blood-borne diseases, including HIV or the hepatitis B virus. However, they do pose other dangers to people. If you suspect you have bed bugs, see your doctor for advice and treatment.
The Michigan Department of Community Health notes that the physical manifestations of bed bug bites can vary widely. You may not even notice bed bug bites at all. If you do notice bites, you may dismiss them as mosquito bites because the localized redness and swelling may look much like that the mosquito leaves behind. However, if you are sensitive to insect bites of any kind, you may experience an allergic reaction to bed bug bites. This allergic reaction can be mild, only causing itching, skin reddening and irritation. More severe allergic reactions are possible and may require you to treat them with anti-itch ointments or oral corticosteroids and antihistamines.
Bedbug bites alone do not cause infection. However, if you are unable to avoid scratching the bites, infection may result. Scratching bedbug bites can cause openings or breaks in the skin. Bacteria can enter through these breaks and begin to multiply, leading to infection. Your doctor can prescribe creams to apply directly to the bites to prevent infection or advise you to use over-the-counter antiseptic ointments instead.
If you or a member of your household suffers from respiratory problems, the presence of bedbugs can worsen these conditions. Bed bugs shed their outer skins, or casings, as they grow. These casings, along with the bed bugs' feces, can dry out and become airborne. The Rhode Island Department of Health warns that breathing the cast-off material from bed bugs can aggravate asthma and other respiratory ailments.
A case study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2009 describes the case of a 60-year-old man who presented to his doctor with symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia. The patient had no physical causes of this anemia but upon examination of his home, the patient's doctor found an infestation of thousands of bed bugs. Although most people with bed bug bites are unlikely to suffer anemia as a result, it could occur in extreme cases, especially if you have other risk factors for anemia.