Histamine in Bed Bug Feces: A Serious and Persistent Health Hazard

Who knew that bed bugs defecate large amounts of histamine? On February 12, 2018, scientists at North Carolina State University published a study which identified a previously unknown health risk associated with bed bugs. See DeVries A, Santangelo R, Barbarin A, Schal C, (2018) Histamine as a emergent indoor contaminant: Accumulation and persistence in bed bug infested homes. The study examined the medical significance of the histamine found in bed bug feces. Bottom line, bed bugs can make you sick long after they are gone.

Bed Bugs Defecate Histamine

Histamine was not only detected, it was found in large amounts in bed bug feces. Histamine is a component of their aggregation pheromone. Previously, only one mechanism was thought to explain the intense itching and burning sensation from a bed bug bite. It was thought to be due to an allergic reaction to the proteins within bed bug saliva injected into the host while feeding. One of the many new insights provided by this study is a second mechanism to explain the allergic reaction. Now it is understood that the histamine in bed bug feces defecated directly on the host’s skin can provoke dermatitis through cutaneous exposure. Depending on the situation, the person bitten by bed bugs can sustain painful allergic reactions due to both mechanisms of action.

Bed Bugs-Produced Histamine in Household Dust

The more shocking discovery is that the large amounts of histamine in bed bug feces is found in high concentrations in the house dust of infested apartments. Just like aeroallergens produced by cockroaches, bed bug-produced histamine in household dust can be inhaled when disturbed, and provoke allergic reactions, asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory symptoms.

Synergistic Interaction With Other Indoor Environmental Contaminants

The study’s authors further raise the question whether bed bug-produced histamine may have a synergistic interaction with other allergens. The potential synergistic reaction is concerning in light of the high prevalence of asthma in low income urban housing. The adults and children residing in substandard housing often have the misfortune of dwelling in apartments infested with both cockroaches and bed bugs; and it may be no mere coincidence that they suffer from asthma and other respiratory ailments. Unfortunately, infested substandard housing is often further contaminated by the residue of pesticides, as to which bed bugs are resistant, that have been grossly overapplied in a misguided effort at extermination.

The Persistence of Hazardous Bed Bug Feces

There are even further eye opening and disturbing insights from this new study. The bed bug-produced histamine persists as an environmental contaminant even long after the infestation is abated. The researchers found histamine levels in dust up to three months after bed bug eradication.

Heat Treatments Do Not Eliminate Bed Bug-Produced Histamine

Surprisingly, histamine levels persisted even after heat treatments. Heat treatment failed to lower histamine levels. Bed bug heat treatments are widely advertised to restore the apartment or hotel room to a near sterile level of sanitation, destroying all manner of vermin and associated pathogens. The researchers found that histamine concentrations were not reduced by heat treatments.

Heat Treatment May Worsen The Risks Posed By Histamine

The study further noted that the extensive network of fans used to circulate hot air throughout the treated rooms may result in spreading the histamine-laden dust particles throughout the apartment thereby spreading the contaminants. One clear take away message is that heat treatments need to be accompanied by an effective deep cleaning protocol.

Bed Bugs Pose Serious Health Hazards

Given the state of medical knowledge today, only the truly ignorant will dismiss bed bugs as a nuisance comparable in magnitude to a mosquito bite. To recap present knowledge, bed bugs not only inflict itchy bites, they can cause serious secondary infections such as cellulitis, folliculitis and in rare cases, sepsis resulting in death. Bed bugs adversely affect mental health and are known to cause severe anxiety and sleeplessness. Bed bug feces has been determined to contain dangerous and deadly pathogens such as the hepatitis B virus, Bartonella Quintana (trench fever) and Trypanosoma cruzi (Chagas disease), and there is a high risk of feces mediated transmission of such diseases through contact with mucous membranes or open skin sores. Added to these health hazards is an even more insidious and persistent risk of respiratory disease and allergic reactions caused by inhalation of household dust contaminated by bed bug feces even after the bed bugs are eradicated.  Owners and operators of apartments and hotels as well as public health officials need to pay attention to these urgent health concerns.

Bed Bug Attorneys for Bed Bug Injuries

Whitney, LLP offers free case evaluations to potential bed bug clients.  The claim evaluation process is simple and a determination is made by our attorneys.  Upon reviewing the provided claim materials and discussing the basis of what happened, we can provide our evaluation and discuss the steps to move forward if it is a case we are able to provide representation in.  For a Legal Consultation Now, call us at 410 583 8000, or use our Quick Contact Form.


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