Their poop contains a chemical called histamine, part of the suite of pheromones that the insects excrete to attract others of their kind. Human exposure to histamine can trigger allergy symptoms like itchiness and asthma. (Our bodies also naturally release histamine when confronted with an allergen.) Histamine stays behind long after the bedbugs disappear, scientists report February 12 in PLOS ONE.
Researchers from North Carolina State University in Raleigh collected dust from apartments in a building with a chronic bedbug infestation. After a pest control company treated the apartments by raising the temperature to a toasty 50° Celsius, the researchers sampled the dust again. They compared those two sample groups with a third, from area homes that hadn’t had bedbugs for at least three years.
Dust from the infested apartments had levels of histamine chemical that were 22 times as much as the low amount found in bedbug-free houses, the researchers found. And while the heat treatment got rid of the tiny bloodsuckers, it didn’t lower the histamine levels.
Future pest control treatments might need to account for bedbugs’ long-term effects.