Entomologists at the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment discovered in a recent study that bed bugs emit significant levels of histamine that could be harmful to people.
The human body naturally produces histamine, a substance that may trigger inflammation and notify the immune system of potential dangers. Allergic reactions with side effects including rashes or respiratory issues are common responses to histamine production. Excess histamine has been linked to health problems like headaches, gastrointestinal problems, irregular heartbeats, and asthma, especially in people who have a histamine intolerance, according to a prior study.
The investigation into the histamine excretion rates of bed bugs was conducted by Dr. Sudip Gaire, a post-doctoral researcher at the UK Department of Entomology, and Dr. Zach DeVries, an assistant professor of entomology. The study examining bed bug histamine excretion levels over the pests’ various life phases, populations, and durations of time, as well as the effects that blood feeding had on the pests’ histamine production levels. On the project, the UK-based team worked along with academics from North Carolina State University.
The study that shown that bed bugs can create significant levels of histamine—more than 50 micrograms in just one week—was recently published in the Journal of Medical Entomology. Researchers discovered that 1,000 bed bugs might potentially manufacture up to 40 milligrams of material per week. Without taking into account the effects of natural population expansion, that amounts to more than 2 grams of histamine annually.
Dr. DeVries stated in the news announcement that “there’s an amount you can actually see, and we don’t see that with any other containment.” “Whenever we discuss pesticides, allergens, or anything else that an invasive organism produces in our home, it always takes place at the microscopic level and not at a level where you could actually grasp it in your hand.”
The significance that bed bug diets play in histamine generation was another significant finding. Researchers studied histamine production in bed bugs fed on three distinct diets: blood, saline, and starvation. The amount of histamine produced by blood-fed bed bugs was “much higher” than that of the other groups, the researchers discovered.
Dr. Gaire stated in the release that “blood is the main element for histamine creation, but we don’t know how exactly they are making the histamine.”
Despite the fact that bed bugs are a widespread issue in homes all over the world, experts normally don’t view them as a serious threat to human health because, aside from their bites, they are not known to transmit any viruses. High histamine production, however, creates a further potential risk from the pest.
Dr. DeVries, Dr. Gaire, and their fellow entomologists believe that bed bugs’ high levels of histamine excretion may have detrimental clinical effects even though scientists are unsure of the precise health implications of histamine produced outside of the human body, as are those produced by them. The results of such frequent, close exposure to histamine, commonly seen in bed bug infestations, are also unknown.
Not only are they creating histamine, but they’re also doing so close to where most people spend the majority of their time at home—in their beds or other sleeping locations, according to Dr. DeVries.
According to Dr. Gaire, histamine exposure at close range poses a risk to humans as well as the agriculture sector. According to Dr. Gaire, bed bug infestations frequently occur in poultry houses where bed bugs live close to the hens. Histamine was discovered to have a detrimental effect on egg production in earlier studies, but Dr. Gaire said further research is needed to determine the precise role that histamine produced by bed bugs plays in egg creation.
According to Dr. DeVries, the study has ramifications for social justice as well.
“Anyone can get bed bugs, but only those with the means and resources can effectively eradicate the issue. A sizable majority of people are left to deal with bed bugs on their own because they lack the funds or resources to do so, according to Dr. DeVries. Therefore, underprivileged groups not only have to cope with bed bugs but also, maybe, with the health effects of them.
While their study provided crucial answers, Drs. DeVries and Gaire noted that additional research is necessary before alarm bells should be rung. Dr. DeVries, Dr. Gaire, and others in the UK entomology department intend to carry out additional research on the subject to address some of the unanswered questions, examining issues such as histamine distribution, bed bug histamine production mechanisms, the clinical relevance of histamine, and mitigation tactics in homes. Until his 2019 National Institute of Health Director’s Early Independence Award, which will support comparable future projects through 2024, Dr. DeVries was given funds for the study.