Despite all the pain and anguish bed bugs cause, it was believed at least they didn’t transmit any diseases. A new study changes all that. The study found that bed bugs can both transmit to mice the parasite that causes Chagas disease—they can also pick up the disease from infected mice.
Chagas is a common disease found in Mexico, Central and South America, inflicting 7 to 8 million people and causing over 12,000 deaths annually. In the U.S., there may be as many as 300,000 cases of Chagas disease, especially in the southern half of the country. Most cases are in Texas and the Southwest where kissing bugs, the most common transmitter of the disease, and pack rats, a common host for kissing bugs, coexist. Kissing bugs are blood-suckers (like bed bugs), and they often bite sleeping people on the face, hence the name ‘kissing bugs’.
Because the symptoms for Chagas disease do not appear for a long time, a person may be infected but it would not be obvious until many years after the initial infection. The concern is that if infected bed bugs were transmitting the Chagas parasite, it would not be known until years later. And even though bed bugs can transmit the disease to mice, we still don’t know for certain if they can transmit it to humans.