Health Risks of Bed Bugs on Babies and Toddlers

As a parent or caregiver, you want nothing more than protect your precious child’s safety. But when a home, apartment, or hotel is infested by bed bugs, there can be serious health risks. While people of all ages are susceptible to illness and/or infection caused by bed bug bites, infants and toddlers are at an elevated risk – especially when powerful pesticides are used in the home.

CDC Posts Pesticide Warning Notice

Bed bug bites are not the only health hazard associated with infestations. Sometimes, the treatment proves to be more dangerous than the disease.

In an official health advisory posted on November 27, 2012, the CDC noted a “dramatic increase in the number of bed bug-related inquiries received by the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) over the past several years.”

The CDC reports that NPIC received close to 170 bed bug pesticide-related hotline calls from January of 2006 to December of 2010. That averages out to approximately 34 yearly calls, or nearly three calls each month. The calls involved a few different issues, including “pesticides that were misapplied, not intended for indoor use, or legally banned from use.”

Among the 169 calls received, “129 resulted in mild or serious health effects (including one death) for persons living in affected residences.” In other words, more than three quarters of all pesticide accidents had harmful or deadly effects.

All preventable deaths are tragic, but nothing could be more devastating to a well-meaning parent than the preventable death of their child. Sadly, accidental child deaths have occurred due to the excessive application of bed bug pesticide.

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Canadian Child Dies from Phosphine Gas Poisoning

In February of 2015 – three years after the CDC posted its warning notice – an eight-month-old baby died in Alberta, Canada, after the child’s mother attempted to fumigate the family’s Fort McMurray apartment with illegal phosphine pellets obtained during a recent family vacation to Pakistan. The mother brought her baby and four other children, aged two to seven, to the hospital after the children began vomiting.

The family’s names were not publicly released, but sister Shazia Yarkhan told Edmonton reporters that “she just wanted to kill bugs, and she just put some medicine over there in [the] apartment because she complained to the apartment caretaker and she didn’t respond to anything.”

“[Phosphine] will kill the bed bugs, but it’s nasty stuff,” said University of Alberta toxicologist James Kehrer. “Children are more susceptible to these things,” he told reporters. “It should only be used by a professional.”

Without knowing additional details about the building, it is inappropriate to speculate on whether the landlord, Sandy Mijajlovic, was legally responsible for treating bed bugs in the unit. In Maryland, many county codes contain provisions holding landlords responsible for bed bug extermination.

The remaining tenants were evacuated after investigators determined the source of the contamination. “The building is safe,” said Mijajlovic, who also lived in the building at the time of the incident.

“It’s a difficult situation,” she told reporters. “I know the kids… I see them. It’s not easy to see someone pass away. It’s such a small baby.”

Fort McMurray Fire Department deputy chief Brad Grainger said the phosphine gas emitted by the pellets was similar to aluminum phosphide, which is commonly used as rat poison in North America. Its cousin, zinc phosphide, is a common ingredient in cheap pest killers available for purchase over the internet.

Researchers at Cornell University describe the effects of mild to moderate aluminum phosphide poisoning as “nausea, abdominal pain, tightness in chest, excitement, restlessness, agitation and chills.” Severe poisoning causes “diarrhea, cyanosis [blue skin caused by lack of oxygen], difficulty breathing, pulmonary edema [fluid in the lungs], respiratory failure, tachycardia [rapid pulse] and hypotension [low blood pressure], dizziness and/or death.”

The CDC classifies phosphine gas as a lung-damaging agent, and warns that its pure form is odorless and colorless.
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Health Risks of Bed Bug Bites for Infants and Toddlers

Excessive use of pesticide is not the only danger present in infestations of homes with babies and children. As you may be aware if you’re a regular reader of our blog, medical studies have linked bed bug bites with the transmission of Chagas Disease and hepatitis B. Both of these conditions can kill an otherwise healthy adult – and for an infant or toddler, whose immune system is still developing, the danger is even greater. Other health concerns include:

  • Cellulitis
  • Folliculitis
  • Skin Hyperpigmentation
  • Impetigo (“School Sores”)
  • Permanent Scarring
  • Anaphylaxis/Anaphylactic Shock

If you think someone in your family might have accidentally ingested a poison or pesticide, call 9-1-1 immediately. Some other helpful numbers are listed below:

  • Local Poison Control Center – (800) 222-1222
  • National Pesticide Information Center – (800) 858-7378
  • CDC Info Line – (800) CDC-INFO
  • National Animal Poison Control Center – (888) 426-4435

If your landlord refuses to assist you with a bed bug apartment infestation, or if your home was contaminated after visiting an infested hotel or motel, the bed bug lawyers of Whitney, LLP can help you fight for compensation. To arrange for a free and private case evaluation, call our law offices at (410) 583-8000.

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