KEY POINTS

  • New research found bedbugs are more harmful than previously thought
  • They affect the indoor air environment
  • Heat treatment makes an infested room a bedbug-free place

Bedbugs do not just infest the pillows and the sheets, they can actually alter the air environment at home.

New research, published in the Science of the Total Environment journal, showed that bedbugs can alter the germs that hover in the dust at home. The study's author, Coby Schal, an entomology professor at North Carolina State University stated that they found a link between the microbiome of household dust and the microbiome of bedbugs.

"A microbiome is the community of micro-organisms living together in a particular habitat," explained Microbiology Society.

In a university news release, Schal highlighted that previously, there was no study that looked into the link between long-term pest infestations and the microbial diversity indoors. 

US News & World Report stated that researchers studied dust microbiomes of 19 bedbug-infested units located in an apartment complex in Raleigh, N.C. They compared data with that of 11 units that were considered bedbug-free.

Microbiome samples were initially collected and treatments were subsequently administered. Out of the 19 infested units, seven were treated with heat to get rid of the pests. The remaining 12 units received treatment after a month. The scientists studied the apartment units for four months.  bedbug infestation bedbug infestation Photo: federico_maderno/Pixabay

After this period, scientists found that the dust microbiomes of infested units differ from those without bedbug infestation. However, after heat treatment was applied to the infested units, the dust microbiome became similar to that of bedbug-free units. 

"The elimination of the bedbugs resulted in gradual shifts in the home microbial communities toward those of uninfested homes," stated Madhavi Kakumanu, the co-author of the study and a research scholar in the lab of Schal.

The study conducted by Schal and his co-researchers is the first experimental demonstration that shows how eliminating home pests like bedbugs contribute to the microbiome indoors. Conclusively, mere elimination allows the air to be at par with that of uninfested homes.

Schal said that many homes are confronted with bedbug infestations. This does not only happen in developing countries, but it is also a problem in developed countries. Thus, there is a vital need to investigate pest infestations and to look into the indoor environmental quality. 

"This paper was the first step towards this end," said Schal.