Normally I have a bit of fun with Tuesday Tunes, whether mocking sugary pop music or giving props for mad entomological rhymes. Today however, I want to share a few trends which are both topical and disheartening (don’t worry, I still have a great song for you at the end of the post).
Last week, a report came out of Vancouver in which doctors reported bed bugs harbouring antibiotic resistant bacteria (Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA] and Enterococcus faecium [VRE]). While it’s a scary proposition, it’s unknown whether the bed bugs are capable of transferring the bacteria at this point. As Jonathan Eisen points out, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that MRSA was found; bed bugs are ectoparasites and MRSA is primarily a skin/wound-related infection. In fact, bed bugs have never been shown to transmit diseases (bacterial or viral) despite plenty of research attention, and as far as I can tell, have never been implicated in a human death. More people have died from improper handling and use of pesticides intended to kill bed bugs than from the bed bugs themselves!
Now don’t get me wrong, the idea of a “true bug” creeping around your mattress and having a late night snack is pretty gross (even for an entomologist), but other than some itchy bites and the financial burden of replacing your furniture, there’s not much to worry about. That doesn’t stop people from caring more about these blood-suckers than insect-transmitted diseases which are literally killing millions of people annually though.
Let’s take a look at a few comparisons between interest in bed bugs and some of the more important insect-vectored diseases using Google Trends, starting with malaria:
For most of the last year, more people have inquired about bed bugs than malaria, a disease which infects more than 500 million people and which kills ~1 million people per year. You might notice the peak labeled “D” where malaria topped bed bugs; that’s when George Clooney revealed he had contracted malaria on a recent trip to Africa. Is anyone else troubled by this?
Unfortunately, it only gets worse as we check other insect-vectored diseases.
Although not as deadly, Dengue fever infects ~50 million people annually (killing ~25,000/yr), but threatens 2.5 BILLION people in more than 100 countries around the globe. Again, peak “D” indicates when world champion surfer Andy Irons died of the disease.
Yellow fever (200k infected/30k deaths per year), typhus (16 million infected/600k deaths per year), leshmaniasis (2 million people infected) and sleeping sickness (estimated 50-70k infected/ 48k deaths in 2008) don’t even register on the public’s radar in comparison to bed bugs. For a little perspective, these 4 diseases affect nearly 19 million people globally, which is comparable to the population of Florida (source). Apparently Hollywood has yet to contract one of these ailments…
What can you do to help? Why not consider donating to a charity helping those affected by these diseases! The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is a major supporter of malaria prevention and research programs, and has links to many organizations where you can donate. Canadians might be familiar with Rick Mercer’s campaign to get insectide-laden bed nets to African families. The Belinda Stronach Foundation has continued the charge, and for $10 you can provide a bed net and help prevent the spread of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa! If you can’t afford to donate right now, please share these links with friends & family and help bring these important diseases some much needed attention.
Now I promised you another entomological song, and it’s about time I delivered. So here it is, The Bed Bug Song by George Cahill!
Remember don’t let the bed bugs bite! Or the mosquitoes, or the sand flies, or the tsetse flies, or the fleas, or the assassin bugs…The Bed Bug Song is available on iTunes – Bed Bug Song – Hero Infection and yearly deaths from insect-vectored diseases courtesy of Wikipedia.
H/T to Jennifer Brown & @_modscientist_ for the tips on malaria charities!