Since the mid-1990s, there has been a global resurgence of bedbugs1. If you've never had a run-in with bedbugs, count yourself lucky. It is difficult to understand just how horrible they are until you have seen or experienced their havoc first hand. They burrow deep into their victim's personal lives in many different ways. In all our years of experience in pest control, no other critter has ever come close to the bedbug in terms of driving people to desperation. We've seen people, emotional and crying, saying they want to burn their place down, and going to all kinds of lengths to get relief from bedbugs. Below is a summary of some of the main reasons why bedbugs are such a big deal.
Bedbug controls don't work well
Bedbugs are very difficult to deal with, even for professionals. In a 2010 survey2 done by National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and the University of Kentucky, 76% of exterminators said that bedbugs are the most difficult pest to control. In 2013, the same survey showed that again, 76% of exterminators found bedbugs to be the most difficult pest to deal with. So, over 3 years of global bedbug resurgence, there has been little improvement in pest control success. Bedbugs continue to grow increasingly resistant to pesticides, and continue to spread easily in our populated cities. Most infestations take several visits by exterminators to "resolve", and very few will offer guarantees. Further, bedbugs are so prevalent, that solving a bedbug infestation today does not guarantee that you will not bring more home tomorrow. The inability to effectively control bedbugs ultimately takes its toll on bedbug victims, be it their health or their wallets.
Psychological problems are probably the number 1 reason why bedbugs are a BIG deal. We live in a modern society, and having bloodsucking parasites in our beds should be a thing of ancient history, right? However, bedbugs find their way into the private sanctuary of your bed.
The Ick Factor
What would be your gut reaction if you found a cockroack in your kitchen? What about if you found one in your bed? What about if you found a whole family of them in your bed... and they were sucking your blood? Well, the bedbug is much worse than that. They come in large numbers, hide extremely well, are very difficult to kill... and it only takes one to start it all. They make your bed, your most important place for rest, comfort, privacy and intimacy, feel dirty and unsafe. Is it any surprise that they cause panic, a sense of isolation, embarrassment, and insomnia3? Surveys show that bedbugs are more feared than other household pests (such as cockroaches or mice), and even vector insects that may carry deadly diseases (like mosquitoes and malaria)4. The internet is steeped with first hand accounts of bedbug horrors. Try taking a browse through the bedbugger forum5 for a compendium of anecdotes.
The Bedbug Shame
To the public, bedbugs are like an STD. They are a deeply personal problem, unlike for example mosquito bites (to which bedbugs are often unfairly compared). Yes, mosquitoes may carry terrible diseases, but bedbugs infest your bed and carry a stigma of uncleanliness. Bedbug victims suffer from:
- Fear of spreading bedbugs to friends and family
- Embarassement to have others know
- Alienation (whether self-imposed or due to people who knowingly avoid them)
The bedbug shame is so strong that people will even be ashamed to take measures against bedbugs. Victims are often afraid neighbours will find out, or see an exterminator come to their home. Others will carry on normal social interactions and not mention the bedbug problem, all the while spreading the infestation to friends and family who will have no idea where it came from.
And unfortunately the bedbugs shame is not illfounded either. Bedbugs do spread from person to person, and as terrible as it may seem, isolation from other people is the best way to not spread them. What IS a misconception, is that bedbugs only infest people who are dirty, or have an unkept home. This is completely false. Bedbugs can be found in even the most prestigious homes or hotels. They do not descriminate, and anyone can get them.
Documented psychological problems
While many of the phsychological effects of bedbugs have been anecdotal32, recent studies have demonstrated that bedbugs can exacerbate or cause psychological problems. Bedbug victims are much more likely to suffer from anxiety, sleeplessness and possibly depression6. Another study7 demonstrates a range of psychotic and anxiety disorders both in people with bedbug infestations and people who fear getting bedbugs. They found that bedbug victims can suffer major depressive episodes, acute stress disorders, adjustment disorders, and develop phobias. Some people develop depressive episodes so severe that they cannot function, turn to drug abuse or even become suicidal. They urge that physicians view bedbugs as a serious "psychosocial stressor", that may cause or exacebate psychiatric illnesses.
We once met a doctor whose patient was suicidal over bedbugs. The doctor thought his patient was unusual and over-reacting. However, if you look over the internet, you will find all sorts of anecdotal evidence for people driven towards suicide:
- Woman claims neighbour's suicide is linked to bedbugs8
- Another claim of 3 suicides in one building due to bedbugs9
- 17-year-old says he wants to commit suicide because of bedbugs10
- 15-year-old, also claims to be suicidal because of bedbugs11
- National Post article makes reference to suicides linked to bedbugs32
There is also documented evidence linking suicide to bedbugs:
- Montreal woman jumps from 17th floor balcony following bedbug infestation12
- 21-year-old woman with no previous history of mental illness attempts suicide13
Why would bedbugs drive someone so far? Because bedbugs invade personal space and persist over extremely long periods of time. They drain people's time, and wallets and create a state of learned helplessness. Further, they cause sleep deprivation, which is a known form of psychological torture.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Bedbugs can continue to affect your mental health, even after they are gone. This study3 shows that past bedbug victims suffer moderate to severe psychological effects, including nightmares, flashbacks, hypervigilance for bedbugs, insomnia, anxiety, avoidance behaviors, and personal dysfunction. These symptoms are characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Below are some more sources linking bedbugs to PTSD.
Bedbugs in your sex life
This topic is not very often discussed in public, scientific articals, or anecdotally in forums and blogs. However, there is no doubt that bedbug victims' sex lives suffer due to bedbug invasion of privacy. Below are some sources where this issue is discussed.
The symptom that sets people scratching and into a frenzied panic is usually the bedbug bite. Many people have mild to severe allergic reaction to the bites, with some rare cases of anaphylaxis17. The bites can lead to any number of secondary symptoms such as impetigo, ecthyma, lymphanigitis17, steroid acne and dermographism18, not to mention psychological damage.
However, everyone has a slightly different immune response to bedbug bites, and a significant percentage of the population has no visible reaction at all (though there is some controversy over the actual percentage of people who dont react):
- People commonly do not react to bedbug bites19
- 30% of people do not react even when bitten repeatedly over time20
While no reaction may seem like a good thing, it actually worsens the whole bedbug epidemic. Bedbugs go undetected and are more easily spread because people do not have a reaction to their bites. Statistics on people's reaction to bites is also probably biased since they usually study people who already know they have a bedbug infestation.
In some extreme cases, bedbug victims suffer from anemia, because of excessive blood loss.
Sleep deprivation and resulting health problems
Whether because of the itchy bites, or just the thought of sleeping with bedbugs, bedbug victims often suffer from unrestfull sleep or sleep deprivation. Sleep has a huge effect on our health, and in general people already don't seem to get enough sleep without the help of bedbugs. Studies show that people who sleep less than 6 hours per night have higher incidence of obesity, stroke, diabetes, memory loss, permanent cognitive loss and early brain deterioration, osteoporosis, cardiac disease, and a 4-fold overall increase in mortality22 . Sleep deprivation is also a known form of psychological torture. Animal studies have shown that sleep deprivation does in fact lead to death23.
Also a controversial issue is the question of health and pesticides. The persistence of bedbugs have driven people to use (and often misuse) all sorts of chemical insecticides in their beds and even on themselves. Some are considered safe, and others not by different authorities. It is known, however, that there are cases of pesticide poisoning directly linked to bedbugs.
- 7 tourist deaths associated with bedbug pesticide exposure in Thailand24
- 111 cases of bedbug-related pesticide illness by the CDC25
- See also the CBC's The Fifth Estate, "Death in Paradise" show about the death's in Thailand33
Bedbugs cost significantly more to deal with than other pests because they are very difficult to get rid of, and require many visits by exterminators before they are resolved26,27. Many bedbug populations are very resistant to almost all pesticides available to treat them. Adding to the losses are all the personal items that are often thrown away by bedbug victims. An infestation can easily cost you in the thousands, and often enough much much more. People will spend enourmous sums on extermination, extermination products, laundering, furniture, or moving to a new place and restarting their lives from scratch. People with low income are particularly vulnerable. Anyone can get bedbugs, but your chances are increased when you rely on used furniture and clothing, or live in low rental housing with poor maintenance28.
Here are just some examples of what people on the internet claim they have spent on bedbugs:
- Hamilton is spending nearly half a million dollars to help get rid of bedbugs in the city, and individuals are spending over 2000$ just to spray for bedbugs in an apartment
- Margaritte’s bed bug bill: $7,910.00 (Purchases: $1,750.00, Lost items: $5,560.00, Extermination: $600.00)
- The price of bed bugs: $4,100 (extermination not included)
- Estimates place the cost of a bed bug incident in a single room to be as much as $6,000 to $7,000
- Edwards, who lives with her husband and 76-year-old mother, has spent $10,000 and countless hours trying to rid the house of the pests. Clear for a few months in the winter, she recently found a new, localized infestation.
- Homeless shelter spends more than $70,000 to fight bedbugs
- Cost to eradicate the bugs from a hotel room can be as high as $1,000 per unit (and this article)
- Bed bug battle costs BC Housing more than $720,000
Along with the bedbug shame comes the bedbug blame. Bedbugs are a terrible thing to get, and people often feel victimized and need to blame someone else for their misfortune. They'll blame their neighbours, friends and family. Tenants and landlords fight over who is responsible. Hotel guests will blame hotels, and employees, their workplace. While some degree of blame can be justified, it is very hard to truly know who got bedbugs from who, and who is responsible. As mentioned above, some people may not know they have bedbugs, others may be neglectful, or embarassed. In any case, bedbugs have led to many legal disputes. I've listed a few noteable ones below:
- Hotel offers $71,000 to settle for bed bug bites18
- Doggett, S. L. & Russell, R. Bed bugs: What the GP needs to know. Australian Family Physician 38, 880–4 (2009).
- Potter, M. F., Rosenberg, B. & Henriksen, M. BUGS WITHOUT BORDERS–EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. Natl. Pest Mgt. Assoc., Inc., Fairfax, VA, http://www. npmapestworld. org/documents/BBSurveyexecsummaryjuly26. pdf [Accessed 5 Oct. 2012] (2010). at <http://www.npmapestworld.org/publicpolicy/documents/executivesummaryreleasetomembersFINAL.pdf>
- Goddard, J. & de Shazo, R. Psychological Effects of Bed Bug Attacks (Cimex lectularius L.). The American Journal of Medicine 125, 101–103 (2012).
- Seidel, C. & Reinhardt, K. Bugging Forecast: Unknown, Disliked, Occasionally Intimate. Bed Bugs in Germany Meet Unprepared People. PLoS One 8, (2013).
- Psychological and Health problems caused by bed bugs (besides bites) « Got Bed Bugs? Bedbugger Forums. at <http://bedbugger.com/forum/forum/psychological-and-health-problems-caused-by-bed-bugs-besides-bites>
- Susser, S. R. et al. Mental health effects from urban bed bug infestation (Cimex lectularius L.): a cross-sectional study. BMJ Open 2, e000838 (2012).
- Rieder, E. et al. Psychiatric Consequences of Actual Versus Feared and Perceived Bed Bug Infestations: A Case Series Examining a Current Epidemic. Psychosomatics 53, 85–91 (2012).
- My neighbour’s death « Got Bed Bugs? Bedbugger Forums. at <http://bedbugger.com/forum/topic/my-neighbours-death>
- Bed Bug Report for 4175 Lawrence Ave E, Toronto, ON. at <http://bedbugregistry.com/location/ON/M1E/Toronto/4175-Lawrence-Ave-E#>
- Bed bugs...suicide..? at <http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20111026195206AAljvFi>
- Suicidal over bed bugs..? at <http://ca.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20140217131525AADbG3T>
- Burrows, S., Perron, S. & Susser, S. Suicide following an infestation of bed bugs. Am J Case Rep 14, 176–178 (2013).
- Cassels, C. Impact of Bed Bugs Much More Than Skin Deep. Medscape at <http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/742775>
- Bedbugs cause Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) « Got Bed Bugs? Bedbugger Forums. at <http://bedbugger.com/forum/topic/bedbugs-cause-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd>
- Sex? Yeah...right... « Got Bed Bugs? Bedbugger Forums. at <http://bedbugger.com/forum/topic/sex-yeahright>
- Bercovici. Bedbugs Ravaged My Sex Life!: Men’s Lives: GQ. GQ at <http://www.gq.com/news-politics/mens-lives/201011/bed-bugs-ravaged-my-sex-life>
- Thomas, I., Kihiczak, G. G. & Schwartz, R. A. Bedbug bites: a review. International Journal of Dermatology 43, 430–433 (2004).
- Woman Receives $71,000 From Bed Bug Bites. at <http://www.badbedbugs.com/woman-receives-71000-from-bed-bug-bites/>
- Goddard J & deShazo R. BEd bugs (cimex lectularius) and clinical consequences of their bites. JAMA 301, 1358–1366 (2009).
- Potter, M. F. Bed Bugs | University of Kentucky Entomology. University of Kentucky at <http://www2.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/ef636.asp>
- Pritchard, M. J. & Hwang, S. W. Severe anemia from bedbugs. CMAJ 181, 287–288 (2009).
- Johnson, D. A. Fractured Sleep Exacts a Heavy Toll. Medscape (2014). at <http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/820529>
- Morin, C. M. Insomnia: A Clinician’s Guide to Assessment and Treatment. (Springer, 2003).
- ‘Bed bug pesticide poisoning’ caused death of California woman and six other tourists in Thailand | Mail Online. Daily Mail (2011). at <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1385518/Bed-bug-pesticide-poisoning-caused-death-California-woman-tourists-Thailand.html>
- Acute Illnesses Associated With Insecticides Used to Control Bed Bugs --- Seven States, 2003--2010. at <http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6037a1.htm>
- CDC - EHS - Bed Bugs CDC-EPA Joint Statement. at <http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/ehs/publications/bed_bugs_cdc-epa_statement.htm>
- US EPA, O. of P. P. Controlling Bed Bugs | Pesticides | US EPA. at <http://epa.gov/bedbugs/>
- What Happens When the Bed Bugs Do Bite? Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives at <https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/what-happens-when-bed-bugs-do-bite>
- Dicker, R. Maryland Bedbug Lawsuit: Faika Shaaban Awarded $800,000 In Suit Against Landlord. Huffington Post (2013). at <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/03/maryland-bedbug-lawsuit-faika-shaaban_n_3378001.html>
- Arundel woman wins $225,000 in bedbug infestation verdict. Baltimore Sun at <http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-03-09/news/bs-md-bed-bug-verdict-20120309_1_bedbug-infestation-bunk-beds-kaden>
- Opera Soprano Alison Trainer Sues Hilton Hotels for $6 Million Over Bedbug Bites. Associated Press (2007). at <http://www.foxnews.com/story/2007/01/03/opera-soprano-alison-trainer-sues-hilton-hotels-for-6-million-over-bedbug-bites>
- Blackwell, T. Bed bugs cause more than just itching — they can lead to serious mental health problems too, study finds. National Post at <http://www.nationalpost.com/m/wp/news/blog.html?b=news.nationalpost.com/2012/10/09/bed-bugs-cause-more-than-just-itching-they-can-lead-to-serious-mental-health-problems-too-study-finds>
- Death In Paradise. CBC.ca at </player/News/TV+Shows/the+fifth+estate/ID/2329257514/>