Are Bed Bug Bites Dangerous? — An Entomologist Explains

Are you worried that getting bed bug bites might be dangerous for you or your family’s health?

Fortunately, most experts agree that bed bugs are not considered dangerous pests — although they’re certainly a nuisance that’s notoriously difficult to get rid of here in New York City.

If you’re currently dealing with a bed bug infestation at home and have been noticing small clusters of itchy red bumps, it’s helpful to know what you should (and shouldn’t) need to be worried about.

Video: Are Bed Bug Bites Dangerous?

We asked our entomologist, Lou, and here’s how he explains it.

Louis N. Sorkin is a Board Certified Entomologist at Entsult Associates Inc. Before that, he worked at the American Museum of Natural History since 1978.

Allergic Reactions

Although bed bug bites are not dangerous, some people may have bad allergic reactions to them.

For most people, reactions to bed bug bites range from exhibiting no symptoms at all to finding small red bumps, itchiness, or mild inflammation. However, you should be wary of severe allergic reactions which may present in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Severe itchiness
  • Painful swelling
  • Fever and flu-like symptoms
  • Blisters
  • Hives

These allergic reactions can be triggered by a number of different chemicals found in bed bug saliva, which is why symptoms are so varied. Your immune system might be reacting to an anesthetic chemical that bed bugs use to prevent people from noticing them when they bite. Or it might be reacting to an anticoagulant they use to stop blood from clotting while they feed. It may also be a generalized histamine reaction to being poked by the bed bug’s stylet fascicle, or “beak,” when it penetrates into your skin.

Allergic reactions to bed bug bites should be treated seriously. If you’re experiencing severe allergic symptoms or unusual skin conditions, we recommend consulting a doctor for proper medical treatment.

Diseases

You don’t need to worry about contracting diseases from bed bug bites. To date, there are no naturally occurring diseases that are transmitted from bed bugs to people.

Unlike mosquitoes and ticks, bed bugs have not evolved alongside any parasitic or infectious agent that can be transmitted via their feeding system (mouth parts, saliva, etc.). And unlike kissing bugs, which defecate on their host after feeding and cause infections when a person scratches the bite area, bed bugs don’t defecate on their host nor make their host itch while they’re feeding — the itchiness starts after they’re done.

Under experimental scenarios, researchers have found that bed bugs can pick up certain bacteria or viruses after feeding on a person that’s already infected. However, they cannot actually transmit those disease organisms to other people.

In conclusion, bed bug bites are not dangerous in terms of spreading diseases.

Excessive Scratching

When bed bug bites feel extremely itchy — again, this varies from person to person — it can sometimes lead to excessive scratching.

Scratching bed bug bites causes damage to the skin, which causes inflammation. In response, the body releases chemicals that lead to more itchiness, resulting in what’s known as the “itch-scratch” cycle.

Excessive scratching in response to bed bug bites is a problem when the scratching damages or breaks the skin, which may potentially lead to secondary skin infections or scarring.

Psychological Distress

It’s no surprise that people just don’t like bed bugs, so being bitten can bother you psychologically.

It’s certainly something that weighs on your mind if you have bed bugs crawling all over you while you’re sleeping. In fact, there are even cases of PTSD associated with bed bug bites and infestations.

Other symptoms of emotional and psychological distress caused by bed bug bites include:

  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Anxiety
  • Hypervigilance
  • Avoidance behaviors
  • Personal dysfunction

Need Help With Bed Bugs?

Whether you’re suspecting signs of bed bugs or dealing with a full-blown infestation, MMPC is here to help. With over 25+ years of experience, we are NYC’s top local experts when it comes to canine bed bug inspections and reliable, eco-friendly bed bug treatments.

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