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Insects and other arthropods

Bed bugs: allergies and bites

On average, a bed bug progresses at a speed of 126 cm per minute.
Photo: Public Health Image Library (Piotr Naskrecki)
Cimex lectularius, cosmopolitan.
  • Cimex lectularius, cosmopolitan.
  • Cimex lectularius, cosmopolitan.

Each person reacts differently to bed bug bites. Around 20 per cent of the population has no reaction. For some people, the itching sensation is immediate and lasts for hours. For others, the sensation is felt several hours after the bite – they don’t feel anything when they are bitten. Finally, some people are extremely allergic to bed bug bites.

The insect tends to bite the face, neck, arms and legs of its host. Usually, there is localized swelling around the bite, without red dots or other distinctive signs. However, if several bed bugs have fed on the same part of the body, small red dots may appear after swelling goes down.

If people scratch excessively, inflammations and lesions may appear and cause infection. If this happens, a pharmacist or doctor can prescribe appropriate treatment.

Bed bugs and allergies

For people who are allergic to bed bugs, the inflammation is not usually limited to the area around the bite. Sometimes, contact with bed bug feces, regurgitated blood or the chitin that forms its exoskeleton can be enough to cause itching. According to researchers, this hypersensitivity could explain why some people feel they are still being bitten even though the bed bugs haven’t been in their homes for some time.

What you need to know

  • People sometimes think that a bed bug infestation is caused by poor hygiene. It isn’t; bed bugs do not prefer one individual over another. Unfortunately, the assumption that “bed bugs = filth” makes people and families that have bed bug infestations feel even more uncomfortable.
  • Bed bugs are thus doubly harmful in a home: Not only does the insect cause skin irritations, but the infestation may create anxiety and isolation for people who fear negative reactions from their friends and family.
  • Unfortunately, a bed bug infestation often remains a secret. Solving the problem usually requires the involvement of health and extermination professionals, tenants and owners of apartment buildings or variuous institutions.

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