Some news agencies have recently been reporting that bedbugs may be doing something even more unpleasant than their normal unpleasantries. Many news sources are reporting on recent information from a Canadian group that looked at what microbes were found in bedbugs in one area. And what they found was pretty nasty. Basically, the deal is they found some seriously nasty strains of bacteria (e.g., MRSA) in bedbugs (e.g., see Do bedbugs carry superbugs? | Reuters).
Now certainly this is unpleasant. But personally I don’t find it particularly surprising. MRSA is everywhere and spreading. And bedbugs
eat human skin can be found in places where MRSA is also found (e.g., on the skin) and also live off of blood and thus have to get through the skin to get their meals. So all that you need i s some people to shed some skin with MRSA in hit and some bedbugs to eat it perhaps bedbugs could pick up MRSA from a host if the host has MRSA on their skin where the bedbugs are getting their meal (thanks to @BioInFocus for pointing out the bedbugs eat blood not skin).
This does not mean that bedbugs are a vector for spreading MRSA between people. For a dissenting voice see this LA Times piece “Bedbugs may carry MRSA and other diseases, but do they spread them? Don’t panic yet” ).
So which story is right? I don’t know but when I see things like this I usually look for a second opinion (or third I guess) from a trusted source. And fortunately I found one. Maryn McKenna (the queen of yucky microbes) has a discussion of this on Wired Science: Drug-resistant bacteria in bedbugs. She basically says that there is a real potential risk here but that whether they pose a serious disease transmission risk is not known. Nevertheless, I think, like her, I will be double checking my hotel rooms and worrying about yet another aspect of microbes of the built environment.
UPDATE – Tara Smith, another microbial blogger I respect greatly, also expresses some serious skepticism: MRSA and bedbugs?