Unlike their similarly disgusting distant cousins lice, bedbugs don’t spread typhus or, as far as medical science knows, any major diseases. And the danger posed by bedbugs pales in comparison to that posed by mosquitoes, which spread malaria, West Nile virus, dengue fever, a variety of encephalitides, and heartworm disease.
Nonetheless bedbugs are unequivocally disgusting. The parasites attack when a person is most vulnerable, and they cause itchy sores that can become infected. When you discover bedbugs in your hotel room in Vientiane (which is where I encountered the biggest, fattest, most undoubtedly gravid bedbug of my life), you will be in for a bad night’s sleep. When you discover bedbugs in your home, then every night becomes a trauma.
Bedbugs, unlike fleas or lice, do not actively infest their hosts. They do not live on cats, dogs, or humans. Cats, dogs, and humans do not spread bedbugs directly on their bodies (although all three species can be bitten by the parasites).
Bedbugs can, however, live in and be spread by contaminated bedding. Human bedding, clothing, and luggage are the main fomites for the spread of bedbugs. Dog and cat beds are infrequent means of contagion. The most common way that bedbugs move is very old fashioned: they simply walk from one place to the next.
People suffering from home bedbug infestations often are driven to their wits’ ends. Today, however, I saw a newspaper advertisement for a novel, effective, and inexpensive way to detect the pests: bedbug sniffing dogs. A google search revealed that this isn’t exactly fresh news, but in my opinion it’s still worth reporting. Here’s what the New York Times had to say about the matter in 2010:
Bedbug-sniffing dogs, adorable yet stunningly accurate entomology researchers at the University of Florida report that well-trained dogs can detect a single live bug or egg with 96 percent accuracy are the new and furry front line in an escalating and confounding domestic war.
Specially trained dogs can investigate suspicious properties to determine whether a bedbug infestation is present. If the pests are found, then a fumigation is in order. If not, then the residents can rest peacefully.