“Bed bugs” are a family of small parasites that feed on blood. There are many types of “bed bugs,” and most specialize in taking blood of a certain type of animal; Cimex lectularius, also known as the the common bedbug, is the bedbug that feeds on human blood, and is consequently the one humans are most familiar with. Bed bugs are very small, and mainly nocturnal, making them difficult to spot (and destroy). Bed bugs breed quickly, and if you don't get all of their eggs (which are very small and hard to see), the infestation will return.

Bed bug bites pose very little serious health threat to humans. The amount of blood bed bugs take is minuscule, so you'll almost never have to worry about bed bugs causing enough blood loss to kill you. While large infestations can cause minor anemia over time, this is highly rare, as most people take steps to get rid of bed bugs long before this point.

Nor do bed bugs spread disease, although the reason for this confounds scientists. When bed bugs bite a person with a blood borne disease such as hepatitis B or AIDS, they take in some of the virus. Due to their body structure, they don’t become sick, however they do carry the disease with them (similar to the way a mosquito carries yellow fever or malaria). Unlike the mosquito, however, bed bug inoculation poses danger to humans. Some scientists believe this is because that when a bed bug bites you, so little of the disease is passed into your bloodstream that it has no chance to spread before your body deals with it. Others believe that diseases can’t replicate in a bed bug (however the reason for this is unknown).

For the most part, bed bug bites cause an itchy rash that resembles scabies, although some people aren't affected at all. The rash is caused by a very minor allergic reaction to the salivary proteins (similar to the reason a mosquito bite itches). In some cases, people extremely allergic to bed bug saliva can go into anaphylactic shock, which can be deadly, although this reaction is rare and usually occurs in conjunction with asthma. For most people, the biggest physical danger bed bug bites pose is a bacterial skin infection that can be caused by repeated and vigorous scratching of a bite.

The biggest threat bed bugs pose is to your psychiatric health; bed bugs can literally drive a person a little crazy. People become obsessed with bed bugs, and even after the infestation is over, they still “feel” bed bugs crawling on them (even though it’s likely that they never felt the real bed bugs crawling on them in the first place). This can cause lack of sleep and even nervous breakdowns; some people actually set fire to their bed due to a fear of bed bugs. While burning your possessions is rare, people with “bed bug phobia” often avoid travel (for fear of bed bugs in hotel rooms) and become quite worried about a bedbug infestation when they get so much as a mosquito bite. This preoccupation is usually treatable, although some people’s fear of bed bugs has actually caused them PTSD (as verified by a psychiatric test).

Author's Bio: 

Dr Aviva Hill Romm, Board Certified Family Physician, freelance editor and writer.