Numerous agents of human disease have been found in bed bugs, including viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and parasitic worms. None of these agents reproduce or multiply within bed bugs, and very few survive for any length of time inside a bed bug. For example, in laboratory studies bed bugs may harbor HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) in their digestive tract for several days, but the virus is not present in bed bug feces. Attempts to transmit disease agents in the laboratory using bed bugs have been unsuccessful, and there currently is no evidence for bed bug transmission (either via bite or infected feces) of any disease agent, including hepatitis B virus and HIV.
The main medical risk of bed bugs is associated with their bites. When feeding, bed bugs inject saliva that contains chemicals that cause unpleasant reactions. The most common reaction is an itching, reddish wheal at the feeding site. Allergic reactions (including anaphylaxis) to bed bug bites occur in some people, although data pertaining to the incidence of severe allergic reactions are lacking.
People living with bed bug infestations may be subject to nightly feedings that can lead to restless nights, sleep depredation, and emotional stress. Large infestations and heavy rates of feeding can result in loss of blood and associated iron deficiency. Under these conditions, poorly nourished children are vulnerable to developing anemia and other medical problems as a result of blood loss.
The following Web site contains accurate and detailed information about bed bug biology and bed bug control.
An excellent reference book devoted to the biology of bed bugs and their relatives is:
Usinger, R.L. 1966, Monograph of the Cimicidae (Hemiptera: Heteroptera). Thomas Say Foundation, Vol. 7, Entomological Society of America, College Park, MD.