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Bed bugs alter microbial community composition of infested homes

Homes infested by bed bugs appear to have different bacterial communities - often referred to as microbiomes - than homes without bed bugs, according to a first-of-its-kind study from North Carolina State University. In addition, once bed bug infestations were eradicated, home microbiomes became more similar to those in homes that never had bed bugs. The findings could be an important step in lifting the veil on the factors involved in indoor environmental quality and how to improve it.

Microbes can affect indoor air quality. So NC State entomologists Coby Schal and Madhavi Kakumanu wanted to learn more about the microbiomes of bed bugs, whether bed bugs can shape the microbial community in homes they infest, and whether eliminating bed bugs changes the microbiome of homes that were once infested.

The study, held in an apartment complex in Raleigh, compared the microbiomes of bed bugs with the microbiomes in the household dust of infested homes as well as the microbiomes in apartments that had no bed bugs. Nineteen infested homes were studied over the course of four months; seven were treated with heat to eliminate bed bugs after the initial sample was taken, while 12 infested homes were treated after one month. These homes were compared with 11 homes that had no bed bugs.

The study also showed that, after bed bugs were eliminated, infested home microbiomes gradually became more like those in homes without bed bugs.