In New Zealand, we are all familiar with the direct threat of wasp and bees stings, how fleas and mosquitoes suck our blood and the bites sandflies take out of us. We also know that there are a few spiders that pose some risk to our health when they bite us and that the disgusting habits of flies can transfer food poisoning organisms from drains and rotting material to our food. But there are some other risks from bugs with which we might be a little less familiar.
Dust mites are tiny microscopic creatures that live in the dust that accumulates in our home. They are part of the arachnid family which includes spiders. Most house dust particles are skin cells from humans and animals and the mites feed on this material. The mites are found in our bedding as well as carpets, clothes and furnishings. In fact, anywhere dust collects. Asthma and chronic skin diseases such as eczema have been shown to be linked to the level of dust mites. These diseases are overreactions of our immune systems to some environmental stimulus. It is not the mites themselves that cause these diseases but their waste material. The wastes contain proteins that induce the inflammatory responses as our bodies ‘see’ them as foreign. Vacuuming regularly using a vacuum with a fine HEPA filter will reduce mite numbers and their waste. Changing the conditions in the home by improving ventilation and/or using a dehumidifier will also reduce house dust mite numbers.
The presence of spiders and insects such as head lice can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. We seem to have an inborn fear of spiders. It probably evolved to help our young avoid dangerous spider bites before they could learn. Venomous spiders would have been common in Africa where our ancestors came from. Just thinking about fleas, head lice or bed bugs is enough to make most of us scratch involuntarily. There is also a social stigma falsely associated with having an infestation of these parasites. Lack of cleanliness is rarely the reason for having an infestation. Vacuuming can form part of the eradication program required for getting rid of fleas and bed bugs but it is unlikely to be the solution on its own. Fleas, bed bugs and head lice can all infest the most fastidiously clean home and head lice seem to prefer clean hair because they find it easier to hold on to the non-greasy hair.
The social stigma involved with fleas, head lice and bed bugs has hindered understanding of these parasites, how to avoid them and how to get rid of them. Through more open discussion the stigma has been reduced over recent years with regard to fleas and head lice. But there is still little general knowledge and understanding of bed bugs because infestations are not talked about. It is a problem that is ‘swept under the carpet’ in more ways than one. As bed bugs are becoming more common around the world and in New Zealand knowledge will, by sad experience, become better. We can help reduce the rate of spread by being aware that bed bugs are spread by hitching a lift in things like our luggage or boxes of goods that are moved from one sleeping area to another. Bed bugs do not fly and live in close association with where we sleep. We can be pro-active in treating our luggage etc. with NO Bed Bugs spray prior to travel.