Why Aren’t Bed Bugs a Public Health Crisis?
Bed bugs have been all over the news lately as several prominent New York City hotels reported infestations. Eww, right? That’s how everyone feels: in a survey, over 90 percent of people said they considered bed bugs a public health crisis, and bed bugs may soon become one of the biggest pests in households throughout the United States. This calls for local and national jurisdictions to get involved and develop a solution to the problem. However, most governmental health departments don’t consider bed bugs a public health crisis, and thus are not devoting sufficient governmental resources to solving the problem. So what constitutes a public health crisis label and where do bed bugs fit in?
How Bed Bugs Impair Health
Bed bugs are considered to be parasitic. The insects prefer human blood for nourishment. Bed bugs typically bite the face, arms, legs, and neck while the host is asleep. The injections of anticoagulant by the bed bugs may cause allergic reactions in sensitive people.
In fact, 70 percent of people who are bitten, experience inflammation, itching, or other systemic reactions. The itching may last for hours, or it may last for days. Some people develop asthma, iron-deficiency anemia, anaphylaxis, and generalized urticaria. Eczeamtoid dermatitis, pyoderma, cellulitis, and impetigo are also common conditions that may develop because of scratching and infected welts.
Many people will also experience anxiety, depression, stress, and insomnia as a result of bed bug infestations. Nervousness, anger, paranoia, frustration, and sleeplessness create additional health concerns and are not uncommon after exposure to bed bugs. Hepatitis B is also spread from bed bugs to the host after the insects defecate on him or her before actually feeding. Studies have shown traces of feces in the blood up to six weeks after the initial exposure.
Although this method of disease spreading is plausible, it has not been proven conclusively. The problem is significant enough that it should be alleviated to prevent the potential spread of disease.
Bed Bugs Overrun Urban Communities
Bed bugs are primarily found in urban communities and have become an urgent public health concern. In fact, in many towns and cities in Ohio, bed bugs are an epidemic. The southwestern and central regions of Ohio are where the blood-sucking insects are found most often. Bed bugs primarily affect the under-served populations in this area, but the issue must be addressed. Since the problem is not just isolated in Ohio, the problem must be addressed globally.
Modern sanitary practices must be implemented to prevent bed bugs. This is a challenge since most of the homes are in areas of poverty. Studies have shown that infectious diseases decline in areas of economic prosperity, and chronic diseases thrive in economic prosperity. People’s health is compromised by impoverished conditions.
Furthermore, the problem is exacerbated by pesticides used to control infestations. Many people also have allergies to the pesticides. Dilapidated structures are far more difficult to clean than new structures and are more likely to have bed bugs. Systemic change must occur to prevent bed bugs and other allergen-carrying pests.
What Qualifies as a Public Health Crisis?
A public health crisis is defined as a complex health system that affects humans in one or more geographic areas. They must have an impact on community health, loss of life, and the economy. Natural disasters, obesity, second hand smoke, and the spread of disease are all considered public health crises as they have resulted in death, higher health care costs, and affects many people in many areas..
Although a nuisance, bed bugs are still not listed as a public health crisis. Because studies have not yet confirmed whether bed bug bites can spread disease, what their impact is on the local economy, or whether they have been responsible for the loss of life, many of the local public health administrations across the country have not elevated bed bugs to being labeled a public health risk. Unfortunately our current knowledge of what these bed bugs are capable of is very limited.
As the infestation grows and the battle against bed bugs is slow to end, researchers are currently studying the health effects of living with bed bugs. In some areas, local health administration offices have upgraded the bed bug risk levels and have put emphasis on controlling and eliminating the population. However, until more information is gathered regarding the overall health risks and risk of the spread of disease, declaring a national health crisis is unlikely, no matter how gross it is.
Tracy Rentz writes on public health issues and healthcare. If you are interested in pursuing a career in public health to create a healthier world, visit sites such as mphdegree.usc.edu and you can learn more about what’s involved in entering the field.