The results of the bed bug bite survey we heard so much about are reported in this new article, The Sensitivity Spectrum: Human Reactions to Bed Bug Bites (PCT February 2010, Michael F. Potter, Kenneth F. Haynes, Kevin Connelly, Michael Deutsch, Erich Hardebeck, Don Partin, and Ron Harrison).
This is unprecedented stuff, so let’s take a very close look.
474 respondents, all with confirmed bed bug infestations, in Chicago, New York, Cincinnati, Louisville, Atlanta, LA and Miami. 66% living in apartments and 15% in single-family homes. All ages. 58% female, 42% male.
The breakdown for infestation level:
|Very high||> 500||5%|
“Have you experienced any bites or skin reactions from the bed bugs in your dwelling?”
70% yes, 30% no.
Essentially the reverse of what was previously thought. Though there were also skeptics—see this note about last year’s article by Reinhardt and others.
The female/male differences were not statistically significant. And neither were ethnicity differences. The level of infestation was also not a factor.
Not so with age, however:
Significantly more people over the age of 65 reported no bites or skin reactions than those who were younger. Forty-two percent of the eldest individuals surveyed said they had no bites or reactions from bed bugs in their dwelling, whereas 26 percent of those aged 11 to 65 reportedly did not react.
This corresponds with an earlier survey where 76% of elderly tenants in one “severely infested” building did not react to bites (or reported not reacting). Possible reasons for this mentioned by the authors include reduced responsiveness to allergens in the elderly, medications that suppress the immune response (corticosteroids), and “diminished awareness due to other competing health issues.” For another discussion of a similar case, see the ASHES/Orkin white paper (PDF) from last year.
I think everyone is rightly worried about the elderly. Their infestations may go unreported, grow undetected, and then may be treated incorrectly.
Relationship to mosquito bites
The bed bug bite response reported in this survey corresponded with the level of mosquito bite response in the following way:
- “Barely visible” mosquito bite reactions = 53% reacted to bed bugs
- “Small (dime-size) welts” from mosquito bites = 77% reacted to bed bugs
- “Large (quarter-size)” / “severe (half-dollar size or larger)” mosquito bite reactions = 89% reacted to bed bugs
Characterizing the reactions of the 70%
- 72% had “itchy red welts”
- 50% had “redness or discoloration”
- 28% had “itching in the absence of welts”
- 21% had “a ‘pinprick’ or ‘stinging’ sensation”
Okay, let me pause here. On this last point the authors say: “which may or may not be symptomatic of bed bugs.”
Personally I have to say I can’t count the times people have reported this. Bed bugs!
There’s a lot more about the reported reactions.
The public health question, etc.
This is remarkable:
Other oft-mentioned symptoms from respondents living with bed bugs included nervousness, paranoia, anger, frustration, embarrassment, devastation and depression. Anxiety, stress, sleeplessness and depression are medically important symptoms that can lead to other conditions. Dismissing bed bugs as “not a public health pest” on the grounds that they are unproven disease vectors ignores the pain, suffering and emotional distress inflicted on their victims. When government agencies finally concede this point, additional resources may be allocated to combat the problem, as they were years ago.
I may have to put that on a post-it.
I hope they’re right.