Although bed bugs are not known to transmit disease, they are a pest of significant public health importance. Bed bugs fit into a category of blood-sucking ectoparasites (external parasites) similar to head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis). Bed bugs, like head lice, feed on the blood of humans but are not believed to transmit disease. Other ectoparasites, such as body lice (Pediculus humanus corporis), are known to transmit several serious diseases. Differences in the biology of similar species of pests, such as body lice and head lice (or bed bugs) can greatly impact the ability of pests to transmit disease.


Bed bugs cause a variety of negative physical health, mental health and economic consequences. Many people have mild to severe allergic reaction to the bites with effects ranging from no reaction to a small bite mark to, in rare cases, anaphylaxis (severe, whole-body reaction) . These bites can also lead to secondary infections of the skin such as impetigo, ecthyma, and lymphanigitis. Bed bugs may also affect the mental health of people living in infested homes. Reported effects include anxiety, insomnia and systemic reactions .

Research on the public health effects of bed bugs has been very limited over the past several decades, largely due to the noted decline in bed bug populations in the latter half of the 20th century. Now that bed bug populations are rapidly increasing, additional research is needed to determine the reasons for the resurgence, the potential for bed bugs to transmit disease and their impact on public health.

Economically, bed bug infestations are also a burden on society. Although the exact dollar amount is not known, the economic losses from health care, lost wages, lost revenue and reduced productivity can be substantial. The cost of effectively eliminating bed bugs may be significantly more than the cost of eliminating other pests because bed bug control usually requires multiple visits by a licensed pest control operator and diligence on the part of those who are experiencing the infestation. Control in multi-family homes is much more difficult than in single family homes because bed bugs frequently travel between units, either by direct transport by humans or through voids in the walls. There are additional costs and complexities associated with coordinating and encouraging participation from multiple residents.

When a community starts to experience bed bug infestations, control is often more challenging because:

  • Local public health departments have very limited resources to combat this problem and bed bugs frequently are not seen as a priority.
  • Municipal codes struggle to identify those responsible for control of bed bug infestations. Tenants and landlords often dispute who is ultimately responsible for the cost of control and treatment. Treatment costs are high and transient populations make it difficult or impossible to assign responsibility.
  • Pesticide resistance and limited control choices make treatment even more difficult. Some bed bug populations are resistant to almost all pesticides registered to treat them. Residents may use over-the-counter or homemade preparations that are ineffective (or even dangerous) and may promote further resistance.
  • Pesticide misuse is also a potential public health concern. Because bed bug infestations are so difficult to control and are such a challenge to mental and economic health, residents may resort to using pesticides that are not intended for indoor residential use and may face serious health risks as a result. Additionally, residents may be tempted to apply pesticides registered for indoor use, but at greater application rates than the label allows. This results in a much greater risk of pesticide exposure for those living in the home. Pesticides must always be used in strict accordance with their labeling to ensure that the residents and applicators are not exposed to unsafe levels of pesticide residues.