Super Bedbugs – Canadian Researchers Discover MRSA and VRE in the Pests
Vancouver scientists have discovered that bedbugs (cimicidae) can carry two antibiotic-resistant bacteria – methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE). Currently, it is not known if the pests are capable of transmitting the superbugs to humans similar to mosquitoes that can carry and transmit malaria.
Science Has Not Yet Proven Bedbugs Can Transmit Blood-borne Diseases
The researchers discovered the link when three patients were discovered with both bedbugs and MRSA at St. Paul’s Hospital. All three were residents of Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside where bedbugs and MRSA have been on the rise in recent years. The team crushed and analyzed five of the bugs and found three samples containing MRSA consistent with samples found at the residence and two containing VRE.
At this point it is not clear whether the drug-resistant germs were transmitted from people to bedbugs, or vice versa. They also do not know if the bacteria were on the surface of the bug or growing inside of them. Since MRSA enters the bloodstream through open wounds or cuts, and bedbugs are parasitic insects that feed on blood, it is feasible to assume that there is a possibility that an infected bug could pass on the bacteria, but this connection has yet to be proven.
“Although they do carry pathogens, there is no single scientific study that has proven a transfer,” says Gail Getty, a research entomologist at University of California, Berkeley. Past research has tested the pests to see if they carry blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis or HIV, but no conclusions have been reached.
Researcher Marc Romney who led the study stresses that at this point “The findings from the study are by no means conclusive. They suggest that bedbugs, which were primarily just a nuisance before may be able to transmit diseases. MRSA infections usually require a break in the skin, and bedbugs do bite, so they could transmit infections theoretically.”
MRSA is a strain of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria that lives on the skin and sometimes in the nasal passages. It is resistant to the most common antibiotics used to treat other strains of S.aureus, including methicillin. Serious infection can occur in people with weak immune systems, including hospitalized patients and those in long-term care facilities.
Enterococci are bacteria that are naturally present in the intestinal tract of all people. VRE is a resistant strain that can be life-threatening if it infects the urinary tract, surgical wounds or the bloodstream of a compromised patient.
The study was published Wednesday in Emerging Infectious Diseases, a publication of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Reference: Lowe CF and Romney MG. Bedbugs as Vectors for Drug-Resistant Bacteria. Emerging Infectious Diseases. Vol. 17, No. 6. June 2011.