When I was a kid I remember my Aunt Dot telling us about the time her house got infested with bed bugs. This would have been early on in her marriage, and she and Uncle Bill would have just moved into their first home. Dot was a great storyteller and would usually end a tale with a laugh or two – at least on her part.
Aunt Dot told us how Uncle Bill had spent the summer covered in bed bug bites while she remained relatively unscathed throughout the whole experience. She said that she “reckoned those critters just must not have liked the taste of my blood. But, boy, they sure went for Billy”. She laughed at her good luck while Uncle Bill just scowled and muttered something about how hard (and expensive) it had been to get rid of the little monsters. (I’m paraphrasing of course. Uncle Bill could, and generally would, cuss up a storm)
While there’s some truth to the idea that bed bugs can be particular about the blood they drink (and we’ll talk about that in a moment), there’s much more to the story.
Bed Bug Myths and Legends
Bed bugs depend on the blood of warm-blooded animals to survive. Without it, they will surely die. Each feeding staves off hunger and death, and allows the bed bug to live and breed, increasing the size and the reach of the colony. Ultimately, the bed bug’s main pursuit through life is to find suitable hosts and to feed and reproduce over and over again.
When a house becomes infested with bed bugs it’s not unusual for some members of the household to suffer more than others from the invasion. One person might end up covered in bites, enduring the inflamed welts and constant itching that often accompanies a bed bug attack. Meantime, another person in the same home (or even the same bedroom) might barely show any signs of attack. They may entirely escape the welts and bites, totally avoiding the itching and irritation that are so common to bed bug encounters.
It would be easy to assume that one person has become the center of bed bug attention in the home, while the other is being ignored during parasite’s nightly feedings. But that’s not what’s happening at all.
Everyone Becomes a Bed Bug’s Target
The inflammation and irritation so closely associated with bed bug bites is the human body’s reaction to the bite itself. It is a kind of allergic reaction to the saliva of the bed bug. Like all allergens some people are more sensitive than others to any exposure to that saliva.
This why two people sleeping on the same infested mattress can have vastly different reactions. One may be highly allergic, and will therefore break out in welts and suffer extreme itching and irritation. Meanwhile, their partner may remain relatively untroubled. Both are likely being bitten, and at the same rate, but only one is sensitive enough to suffer the full brunt of the bed bugs’ attack.
Bed Bugs and Blood Types
So, was my Aunt Dot totally wrong in her assertion that the bed bugs liked Uncle Bill’s blood better than hers? Well, not entirely. Recent research has shown that bed bugs do develop a taste for specific blood types. This typically happens during their nymph stage.
An infant bed bug that feeds primarily on type A blood, for example, will be primarily attracted to that blood type as they grow and reach adulthood. It is, in many ways, a learned behavior. A bed bug weaned on type A blood will prefer type A blood throughout its life cycle. However, it will not starve itself if there is no type A blood to satisfy its hunger. In a pinch, the bed bug will feed on any blood source regardless of type.
Aunt Dot’s tale of bed bug immunity is just proof that she had a higher tolerance for the allergen than Uncle Bill. In all likelihood they were both being bitten throughout the night, but only Uncle Bill was suffering from the attack (much to Aunt Dot’s apparent amusement).
Don’t Ignore the Signs of a Bed Bug Infestation
While it’s true that some people have more severe reactions to bed bug bites that doesn’t mean that a potential infestation should be ignored. If one person in the home is being bitten chances are everyone is under attack. It is important to act quickly to halt the infestation and eliminate the colony as soon as possible.
If you suspect your home has become infested by a colony of bed bugs the time to act is now. Contact a licensed exterminator or bed bug removal expert immediately and take all necessary steps to eliminate these predators from your home as soon as possible. Once the infestation is eliminated you can make up your own stories to bamboozle your nieces and nephews.