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A Chemical in Bed Bug Poop Might Be Making You Feel Sick

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Bed bugs can give you nasty bites and a lifetime of nightmares, but scientists have long wondered if the creepy parasites can pass diseases to their hosts. For years, the general consensus was no: Unlike ticks, mosquitos, and other insects that are known to feast on human blood, bed bugs aren't packing any harmful pathogens in their bites. Yet according to a new study, spotted by Gizmodo, the bugs don't need to nibble on us to make us sick. Histamines in their poop might be aggravating our immune systems.

For their study, recently published in the journal PLOS One, scientists at North Carolina State University tested the dust in a bed bug-infested apartment complex. They found that samples from some infested homes had histamine levels 20 times higher than those without bed bugs. This was still the case three months after the buildings had been treated by exterminators.

Histamine is a chemical compound produced by our bodies. In small amounts, it works as a vital part of our immune system. It's activated in the presence of allergens, irritants, and pathogens. Say a puff of dust goes up your nose: Histamine is what prompts your body to sneeze it out. It's also the culprit behind the watery eyes, runny nose, and itchy skin you might experience during an allergy attack (which is why you might take an antihistamine to calm these symptoms).

But we're not alone in our ability to produce histamine. Recent research has shown that the chemical is present in bed bug feces. When the insects poop, they spray histamines into the same air that homeowners breathe. A few whiffs of the stuff is likely nothing to worry about, but scientists are concerned about the effects environmental histamine can have on people over an extended period of time. The chemical compound can cause allergic reactions on its own and possibly make us more vulnerable to existing allergens. The implications are especially serious for people with asthma.

"Dermal, nasal, or respiratory responses (e.g. bronchial reactivity) to histamine in clinical tests suggest that exposure to histamine in the environment would constitute a significant health risk, although information on environmental exposure is limited," the study authors write.

For now, scientists can do nothing but speculate on what these results might mean for public health. Humans are prepared to treat only histamine that's produced by our own bodies, and dealing with the effects on histamine spread by bed bugs is uncharted territory for doctors and scientists. How exactly bed bugs obtain the chemicals in the first place is also unclear, but researchers suspect that it's a combination of the blood they suck from us and histamine they make on their own as a type of pheromone, indicating to other bed bugs that a place is safe to invade.

Following this study, the North Carolina State scientists plan to conduct more intensive research on the impact histamine produced by bed bugs is having on the people who live with it. While the best way to eradicate histamine in bed bug poop is still a mystery, there are plenty of ways to deal with the bugs themselves if you suspect you have an infestation.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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How Promoting Handwashing Got One 19th Century Doctor Institutionalized
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Regardless of how often we actually do it, it's common knowledge that washing our hands before eating, after coughing, and after using the bathroom is good for us. But the connection between handwashing and health wasn't always accepted as fact. As Danielle Bainbridge explains in the PBS web series Origin of Everything, the first doctor to campaign for cleanliness in hospitals was not only shunned by other medical professionals, but ended up in an insane asylum.

Prior to the 19th century, handwashing primarily existed in the context of religious ceremonies and practices. It plays a role in Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and Buddhism in some form or another. But washing up to stop the spread of disease wasn't really a thing for most of history. People weren't aware of germs, so instead of microbes, they blamed illness on everything from demons to bad air.

Then, in 1846, a Hungarian doctor named Ignaz Semmelweis made a breakthrough observation. He noticed that women giving birth with the help of midwives were less likely to die than those treated by doctors. He determined that because doctors were also performing autopsies on victims of puerperal fever (a bacterial infection also known as childbed fever), they were somehow spreading the disease to their other patients. Semmelweis started promoting handwashing and instrument sterilization in his clinic, and the spread of puerperal fever dropped as a result.

Despite the evidence to support his theory, his peers in the medical community weren't keen on the idea of blaming patient deaths on doctors. Partly due to his commitment to the controversial theory, Semmelweis was shunned from his field. He suffered a mental breakdown and ended up in a mental hospital, where he died a few weeks later.

Germ theory did eventually become more mainstream as the century progressed, and washing hands as a way to kill unseen pathogens started gaining popularity. Even so, it wasn't until the 1980s that the CDC released the first official guidelines instructing people on best handwashing practices.

If this story suddenly has you in the mood to practice good hygiene, here's the best way to wash your hands, according to experts.

[h/t Origin of Everything]

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Inhaling Cleaning Product Fumes Can Be as Bad for You as a Pack-a-Day Smoking Habit, Study Finds
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People who use spray cleaners on a regular basis may want to reconsider how they tackle their spring cleaning. A new study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine [PDF] offers strong evidence that inhalation of these sterilizing and polishing chemicals may be as bad for their lungs as smoking one pack of cigarettes per day, as Newsweek highlights.

A team of scientists led by Cecile Svanes, Ph.D. at Norway’s University of Bergen tracked 6230 study subjects for two decades, looking for a correlation between diminished lung capacity and use of cleaning products. Those who regularly used chemicals for cleaning, like housekeepers, displayed worsening lung function when researchers asked them to blow air into a tube. Even using cleaners once per week was associated with reduced lung capacity.

Those who reported use of the products also had increased rates of asthma when compared to those who did not use cleaners. It’s believed the particles of the abrasive chemicals are damaging the mucus membranes, leading to steady and progressive changes. The results applied to both occupational cleaners as well as those who were responsible for cleaning at home. The study also demonstrated that women were more susceptible to the effects of the chemicals than men, although a comparatively smaller number of men took part.

What can you do to mitigate the risk? Oistein Svanes, a doctoral student who worked on the project, recommends cleaning with a damp microfiber cloth using only water. If you feel you must use a chemical agent, it's better to pour it into a bucket instead of relying on a spray nozzle—the latter is what causes the chemicals to become airborne and respirable.

[h/t Newsweek]

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