In 2010, the bed bug (or, in entomology-speak, Cimex lectularius) for the first time triggered more calls to exterminators in the United States than did roaches and termites. Unfortunately, when doctors are confronted with the naturally stressed-out patient with an unexplained rash and itching generally seen with these elusive and almost-microscopic insects, the initial diagnosis often involves some psychosomatic explanation. Bed bugs are rarely found on a patient’s body or clothing, and sometimes there is only itching and no rash.
It is important health care workers not underestimate the mental health impact of having bed bugs. An article this past January in the American Journal of Medicine describes cases of post-traumatic stress disorder due to bed bug infestations. It is not unusual for individuals to suffer persistent fear of infestation, even after a successful extermination. Physicians should not simply treat the itching with a cream, but allow time for a little discussion of the emotionally negative experience of having dealt with such an infestation.
Don’t expect the incidence of bed bug infestation to diminish any time soon. Many cities in the United States have been experiencing these, and the bugs appear to be developing resistance to the chemicals used to destroy them. This is not surprising, as the earliest historical records describe what appear to be bed bugs; they have staying-power on their side.