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MRSA Discovered In Bedbugs

May 12, 2011

Despite the fact that bedbugs are generally not viewed as a major public health threat, drug-resistant staph bacteria has been found in bedbugs from three hospital patients from a subjugated neighborhood in Vancouver by a team of Canadian scientists.

Although bedbugs are not known to spread disease, they do lead to scratching, which may cause the skin to tear and make people at risk for bacteria, said Dr. Marc Romney, an author on the study.

A study published Wednesday in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that the tiny pests could play a role in transmission of disease. A sampling of bedbugs collected from patients living in crowded conditions in the Vancouver neighborhood were found to carry the drug-resistant bacteria known as MRSA — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

But there is no evidence whether or not the bedbugs actually spread the bacteria or a less dangerous germ — vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium — also found in the tiny pests, but the study is “an intriguing finding” that needs to be looked at further, said Romney, a microbiologist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Romney said he and his colleagues decided to do the research after seeing a boom in bedbugs and MRSA cases from the Downtown Eastside neighborhood. They collected five bedbugs that they crushed and analyzed. Three were found to carry MRSA, which can become deadly if it gets through the skin and into the bloodstream.

Two of the bugs had VRE, which is less dangerous than MRSA.

Both germs can often be found in hospitals, and experts have been far more worried about nurses and other healthcare workers spreading the bacteria than insects.

It is not clear if the bacteria originated with the bedbugs or if the bugs picked it up from infected people, Romney added.

“While the findings of this study are likely to raise concerns about bedbugs and bacterial transmission in impoverished communities, our primary concern for the public at large remains to be the psychological impact bedbugs have on those suffering from infestations,” Jeffrey White, a research entomologist for Bedbug Central, a website dedicated to information concerning bedbug issues, told FoxNews.com.

“We understand the anxiety this study’s findings may cause amongst the general public, however, the study only confirms what has long been suspected and more research needs to be conducted to understand the value of this information,” White said.

While bedbugs were nearly exterminated in North America in the mid-20th century, increased global travel has contributed to their resurgence in recent years, according to the CDC. Bedbugs can hide in clothing and in furniture.

While there is no solid proof that people have caught MRSA from bedbug bites, the insects “may act as a hidden environmental reservoir” for the bacteria, the authors wrote. “Bedbugs carrying MRSA and/or VRE may have the potential to act as vectors for transmission.”

The researchers did not confirm whether the bacteria were on the outside of each bug or living and growing inside it, which would suggest the possibility of biological transmission, the researchers said.

But even if the bacteria was only carried on the bugs’ exteriors, the finding is still significant said Romney, because bedbugs could spread the germ from person to person, especially in crowded areas such as homeless shelters, like the ones in the downtrodden Vancouver neighborhood where the bedbugs with MRSA were found.

Image Credit: CDC/ Harvard University, Dr. Gary Alpert; Dr. Harold Harlan; Richard Pollack. Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki

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