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Goddard, JAMA team up to uncover bed bug issues
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – A medical entomologist and a physician spent several months researching a small bloodsucker on the comeback trail and their findings are bringing extensive national attention to the problem.
Jerome Goddard is a medical and veterinary entomologist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. His colleague, Dr. Richard deShazo, is a physician in the Department of Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The two have been reviewing literature on species of bed bugs that feed primarily on human blood.
They uncovered a wealth of information for an article they felt would help physicians and public health officials dealing with public concerns about this parasite. This paper is the lead piece in the April 1 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, or JAMA.
National and world media outlets picked up on the hot topic of bed bug reappearance. Goddard has been swamped with interview requests from Reuters and Bloomberg News Syndicate to Scientific American and several large newspapers in metropolitan markets.
“Bed bugs were common in the United States decades ago and thought to be eradicated with the advent of modern pesticides,” Goddard said. “The pests have reappeared in various states, and their numbers are increasing.”
JAMA chose Goddard’s paper as its lead article because it addresses bite reactions, treatment and control issues, and the potential for disease transmittal, all which concern health officials. The paper discussed these issues at length, noting that treatments vary in effectiveness and control is challenging. Goddard found little evidence to suggest bed bug bites transmit disease.
“The consensus is that bed bugs don’t carry human disease, but more work needs to be done to evaluate their potential for disease transmission,” Goddard said.
Bed bugs often make a series of bites on their victims and leave a trail of feces and shed skin on mattresses, bedding, cracks, gaps and bedboards. Many physicians are seeing patients with mysterious bites, blisters, blotches and rashes. Those who recognize bed bug bites can treat symptoms but may need more information on pest control.
“Bed bugs are not a sanitation issue,” Goddard said. “It has nothing to do with uncleanliness. They are seeking a blood meal, so they take advantage of human habits. They naturally go to places, such as hotels, apartments and dormitories, where people come and go.”
Bed bugs have become harder to control because they have developed resistance to many pesticides.
“Bed bug populations can build up to tremendous levels because they are hard to catch and they scatter quickly when people turn on lights,” Goddard said. “The babies are smaller in size than an ant.”
Bed bugs also can live for up to one year without feeding, a characteristic that makes control difficult.
Goddard said he thought the decision by JAMA to feature the article will help physicians reassure patients that bed bugs are not a disease threat. He said he also was amazed by JAMA’s effective promotion of the article through news releases and television and radio spots to media outlets in the United States and Canada.
“Bed bugs are a hot topic for our readers,” said Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch science writer Misti Crane, who contacted Goddard when JAMA released the issue. “They want to know what to do to fight this pest.”
Goddard is no stranger to the publishing world. He has written more than 160 scientific articles and six books on medical entomology. His textbook, “The Physician’s Guide to Arthropods of Medical Importance,” is now in its fifth edition. He is writing an Extension publication about bed bugs.
“There is real truth in the old saying of ‘sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite’ because they often hid in bedding and bit people,” Goddard said. “They weren’t welcome back then, and we certainly don’t want them now.”