Anemia and Bedbugs: The Creepy Connection

Nobody in his right mind likes a bedbug. While experts agree they don’t transmit diseases, these bugs can cause a host of other problems.

Not only do they leave mysterious, itchy bites on your skin, but people who have them often find themselves emotionally distressed and sleep-deprived. In addition, within the past few years, doctors have discovered that bedbugs may also cause severe anemia, especially in certain high-risk groups.

In one case reported by the National Institutes of Health, a 60-year-old man checked in with his doctor after several months of severe fatigue and lethargy. Among other problems, the man had a history of depression, diabetes, drug abuse, and alcoholism.

He also had bedbugs in his apartment, an infestation so severe the man’s doctor had even seen bugs crawling on his skin during the day. Although the man didn’t report any signs of outward or gastrointestinal bleeding, lab tests showed he had an abnormally low iron count.

The doctor started his patient on vitamin supplements, but still the man made several returns over the next few weeks with anemia. At this point, he even needed hospital treatment and units of blood cells.

Having ruled out other factors, his doctor suspected the bedbugs were the culprit, and authorities were able to get a professional exterminator to control the problem. Months later, the man's anemia had not returned despite the presence of some bedbugs still in his apartment.

Related: Ugh! Bedbugs Are Still Around, Still a Health Threat

At-risk groups. The basic reason that bedbugs cause anemia is that they feed on blood. In the above situation, the man was likely bitten dozens of times every night until his body couldn't keep up with replenishing the blood supply. Although this case was a severe infestation, groups such as seniors or the disabled may be at an increased risk even with moderate infestations.

Why would they be more at risk? First, older people have a more difficult time maintaining their iron levels already, making the risk for anemia higher with a bedbug infestation. At the same time, seniors and those with disabilities may be affected more if they're bedridden or unable to deal with an early infestation.

Certain groups may not give the proper time and attention to cleaning their homes on a regular basis.

Then, the risk worsens if these seniors or disabled are living in crowded nursing homes or assisted living places. Bedbugs like inhabiting areas where they can easily find hosts, making nursing homes, apartment buildings, homeless shelters, high-travel locations, and large cities all ideal spots.

Finally, people who suffer from depression, drink, or use drugs regularly may risk getting anemia from severe infestation. These groups may not give the proper time and attention to cleaning their homes on a regular basis.

Although bedbugs don't care about cleanliness, a dirty home provides many hiding places for them, making it difficult to find and get rid of the problem early.

Symptoms of anemia. If you suspect bedbugs in your home or the home of a loved one, you should also watch for anemia. Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness/light-headedness
  • Pale or yellow skin
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold extremities

At the beginning, any symptoms may go unnoticed, especially vague symptoms like fatigue. During this time, you may only notice an abnormal shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat during exercise. After a while, however, these symptoms will get more severe. You should seek prompt medical treatment if you're experiencing any signs that indicate anemia.

Treatment. When getting treatment for anemia related to bedbugs, you should first worry about your and your family's health. Everyone in the household should get evaluated by a doctor.

Related: Blood Sucker Nation

Your doctor will perform a lab test to determine iron counts, and will likely prescribe supplements and certain foods. In severe cases, he or she may recommend hospital treatment, including units of blood, to help your body along.

Then, as you might have guessed, resolving the anemia for good will mean extermination of the bedbugs in your home. Experts agree you should hire a professional exterminator to get the job done quickly. Efficiency is important with your health at stake.

Once the exterminator has sprayed your home, you'll need to wash any clothes and bedding that may be infested in hot water and dry them in a heat dryer. Wipe down the mattress and bed frame before vacuuming in case any eggs are lying around.

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Then, vacuum the house thoroughly and throw away the vacuum bag immediately. With thorough cleaning and professional help, you will be able to resolve both problems and prevent them from returning.

While bedbugs aren't known for carrying diseases, they can provide a great deal of stress and anxiety. In some cases, they can also cause severe anemia, especially for at-risk groups like seniors or those with a disability. Make sure you inspect your home regularly for these pesky creatures and watch out for those signs of anemia.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's senior managing health editor. He also serves as chairman of the department of obstetrics/gynecology and reproductive science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. This Fox News piece is used by permission; it also appeared in AskDrManny.com.

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Last Modified: November 2, 2017, 10:47 am

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