Bed bug infestations are known to cause both physical and psychological harm to families caught in their clutches. The bites and the itching can take their toll. Eliminating an infestation typically takes time, patience, and a fair bit of financial investment.
But is there more to a bed bug infestation that we should be aware of? Can that infestation actually have a measurable impact on your home’s environment? Can an unchecked bed bug infestation physically change your home, fundamentally altering the biological environment in which you and your family live?
Recent research suggests that bed bug infestations can, and often do, adversely impact our biological environment.
Microbes, Micro-biomes and You
Recent research by entomologists at North Carolina University suggests that microbes associated with bed bug colonies can actually alter the air quality of our homes. Homes with long-term bed bug infestations seem to have distinctly different bacterial communities (or micro-biomes) than homes that have been free from bed bug activity. This same study has shown that when the bed bugs are successfully eradicated from the home the micro-biome returns to so-called normal. Shifting back to what one would expect to find in an environment with no bed bug activity.
It has long been understood that microbes have an impact on indoor air quality, and subsequently on the health of humans and other animals living within an enclosed environment. NC State entomologists Coby Schal and Madhavi Kakumanu set out to learn more about the micro-biomes of bed bugs and how they might impact and shape the microbial environments of our homes. They also wanted to learn whether eliminating bed bugs from test environments would then result in further changes to the micro-biome of the homes being investigated in their study.
A Controlled Experiment
Schal and Kakumanu’s study was conducted in a North Carolina apartment complex. Nineteen infested homes were monitored over the course of four months. After initial samples were taken, seven of the targeted homes were treated with heat to eliminate any bed bug activity. The remaining 12 homes were then treated a month later after further samples were obtained.
These nineteen test homes were then compared with a control group. That control group consisted of 11 homes that had been inspected and confirmed to be free of bed bugs.
The results of the study showed distinct similarities between the micro-biomes of bed bugs and the dust-associated micro-biomes of infested homes. The common ingredient in both was the presence of Wolbachia, a bacterium that makes up the bulk of the bacterial community associated with bed bugs and the homes that they infest. While Wolbachia was found to be abundant in homes infested with bed bugs it was conspicuous by its absence in homes that were free from infestation.
The study proved that there is a link between the micro-biome of bed bugs and the micro-biomes of the homes that they infest. The study also demonstrated that the micro-biomes of treated homes gradually returned to their pre-infestation state once the bed bug population had been successfully eliminated.
The Importance of Timely Bed Bug Removal
Research into bed bugs has shown that there is no correlation between their bites and the transmission of diseases. While the bite of a bed bug can be irritating, and can result in a moderate allergic reaction in the victim, there is no proof that they carry disease. That’s the good news.
However, it is also understood that indoor air quality has a profound effect on the health of individuals living in a closed environment. Poor indoor air quality can have an impact on our health, and while the recent studies conducted at North Carolina University make no claims regarding the impact of the micro-biome of bed bugs on the health of families in the test-homes it’s not much of a stretch to accept that their might be a connection between the compromised air quality of an infested home and the health of the family within.
The NCU research study highlights the importance of the timely removal of bed bugs whenever an infestation is suspected. The sooner a homeowner acts, the easier it is to eradicate the infestation and successfully protect the health and well being of your family.