Is infestation with the common bedbug increasing?
Bedbugs seem to be making something of a comeback after a prolonged absence, suggests a letter from Brighton Public Health Laboratory Service in this week's BMJ.
Paul and Bates report that in 1998, specimens from just one bedbug infestation were submitted to Brighton Public Health Laboratory Service. None had been submitted in the preceding three years, but in 1999 four infestations were reported within the space of nine months.
In all four cases, the bedbugs were apparently transferred in luggage and furnishings brought over from overseas, including the United States and Australia. One of the cases concerned a healthcare worker whose home became infested. The worker had not travelled recently, nor bought furniture, nor been in close proximity to a source of infestation in the local vicinity. The bugs were successfully killed off with insecticides, but three months later the worker's parents, who lived elsewhere, were also bitten, suggesting that the bugs had been transferred in personal effects, say the authors. Bedbugs can survive for up to six months without food, they caution.
The authors say that many doctors wouldn't recognise a bedbug if it came up and bit them in the face, and so might misdiagnose patients who have itchy bites and rashes acquired during the night. The bugs, which look like lentils, are rather shy, feeding on their unsuspecting victims during the night and going into hiding during the day, say the authors. The increase in international trade and travel may be responsible for the reported increase, they conclude.
Dr John Paul, Brighton Public Health Laboratory Service, Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton
Tel: (mobile) 05890 22543
Dr Janice Bates, Department of Microbiology, Worthing Hospital, Worthing
Tel: +44 (0)1903 285 180
Fax: +44 (0)1903 285 072