Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite: Can Bed Bugs Make You Sick?

Can bed bugs make you sick? They can, in some cases. If you're dealing with bed bugs, you could also be at risk for allergies, itching, insomnia, infections, and more. Let's discuss how to stop bed bug bites in their tracks to stay healthier.

By Pest Advisor Editors (Updated on Jul 17, 2023)

Fact Checked by Jason Chapman

Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite: Can Bed Bugs Make You Sick? photo

You know that bed bugs are a nuisance. They visit you when you’re sleeping to bite you, and they can leave small messes on your sheets. But can bed bugs make you sick? They can negatively affect your health. Here are a few ways:

  • Bed bug bites can lead to allergies.
  • Bed bug bites have a small risk of transmitting diseases.
  • Bed bug bites can cause serious itching.
  • Bed bug bites can lead to infections.

Let’s discover whether bed bugs can make you sick and talk about ways to prevent these maladies from taking hold.

The Immune Response to Bed Bug Bites and Infestations

When you are bitten by a bed bug (or fire ant or mosquito), you might be allergic to their saliva. The little raised red bumps you see are a histamine reaction, which means your body is reacting to the saliva. For most people, the itchy bumps last about a week, then they go away.

But in some cases, people can develop hives at the site of the bite. This can progress and cause more hives as more bites occur. The itching and discomfort gets worse, and your doctor might advise you to take oral or topical medications to help.

Rarely, people who are allergic to bed bug bites might have an asthma attack and very rarely, it might even progress to anaphylaxis, which is a severe reaction that can include breathing difficulties and shock. In a few cases, this can even be fatal.

Just treating the bites isn’t the answer here; you need to actually eradicate the infestation and prevent the bites from happening in the first place.

Possible Infections Caused by Scratching Bites

Even if your bed bug bites don’t turn into a widespread allergic reaction (which is the most likely scenario), you might experience a lot of itching. This leads to scratching, and scratching can lead to skin infections.

Your fingernails are teeming with bacteria. It’s not nice to think about it, but it’s true. When you scratch at a bite, you create a tiny open wound, and that bacteria can get inside. Many times, the body will fight this off on its own; you might see a tiny bit of clear fluid or pus, then it will go away. Other times, though, you might end up with a skin infection that lingers. In rare cases, particularly if your immune system is compromised for any reason, you might end up with a more serious infection that spreads.

Your doctor will likely give you either oral or topical antibiotics to manage this type of infection, and it should clear up quickly. The only real long-term solution to this, however, is to eliminate the bed bug problem.

The Psychological Impacts of Bed Bug Infestations

Bed bugs are a minor threat to your physical health, since most people don’t become severely allergic to bed bug bites, nor do they develop a serious infection. However, your mental health can become affected by having bed bugs in your home.

First, there’s an anxiety produced by knowing you have bugs in your bed. This can produce a creepy-crawly sensation on your skin even if there are no insects currently on you. It also might increase your itching.

The itching and worry might lead to insomnia, or trouble sleeping. This is a risk factor for feeling anxious or depressed. You also might find yourself more irritable or stressed than usual, which isn’t good for your mental health.

Strategies to Prevent Bed Bug Bites

The best way to prevent bed bug bites is to prevent bed bugs. If you don’t already have bed bugs in your home, here are some tips on discouraging them from entering in the first place:

  • Don’t bring used furniture, particularly mattresses or upholstered furniture, in to your home without careful inspection. Bed bugs will often hitch a ride into your home via these types of furnishings, and once they’re in, they’re hard to kick out.
  • Be careful with your luggage. Don’t put it on hotel room floors, and check it carefully for signs of bed bugs after checking it or putting it in an overhead compartment on an airplane. Other people’s luggage might be carrying bugs or eggs, and these can transfer over to your luggage easily in these situations.
  • Reduce clutter in your home. If one or two bugs make it in but they can’t find somewhere adequate to hide, they just might die off or wander back out again. Piles of clothes on a chair in your bedroom, baskets of dirty laundry sitting around, and dusty books or papers on a night table are all excellent hiding spots for bed bugs.
  • Vacuum frequently. Again, this disrupts the game of hide-and-seek that bed bugs are adept at playing – and winning. Pay attention to where the carpet meets the baseboard as well as around furniture legs.
  • Consider using peppermint oil as a bug repellant. Bed bugs hate the scent of peppermint oil, so using it (diluted properly, of course!) in your bedroom can help ward off stray critters that manage to make their way in.

Effective Eradication Measures for Bed Bugs

While there are plenty of ways you can help the situation if you find yourself with an active bed bug infestation, chances are excellent that you’ll need to hire an exterminator to cure the problem. Don’t hesitate to call in these bug-killing heroes; they’ll be able to help you get the issue under control more quickly and effectively than you’d be able to do on your own.

In the meantime, you can do things like vacuuming and decluttering, as discussed above. Also, wash your bedding in hot water and put it through the high-heat drying cycle. While that’s washing, add a fully encased mattress cover (and put one on the box spring as well) to trap any bugs in or on the mattress away from your skin. Replace or wash your pillows, too.

If you do need to replace your mattress or other furniture, make sure you mark it in some way so nobody else will take it and spread the problem to their own house.

While bed bugs aren’t likely to transmit any serious diseases or cause major physical problems in most people, those who have immune system deficiencies, babies, and the elderly are going to be more prone to problems. Also, anyone who is prone to anxiety or depression might see their symptoms exacerbated during this time. The best course of action is to get rid of the bed bugs as quickly as you possibly can and to take steps to prevent a recurrence.

Citations and Credits

Featured image by Alexander Grey / Unsplash

Article image by KarelienK / Pixabay

Article image by Usman  Yousaf / Unsplash

Article image by Filmreal Studio /  Unsplash

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