(NEW YORK) -- Bedbug infestations, and often the media frenzy surrounding the vermin, may increase the risk of mental health problems and exacerbate pre-existing psychiatric conditions, according to a new study.
"Bedbugs, mice, rats roaches -- they've bothered human beings, and they have been around for many, many years," Dr. Evan Rieder, a psychiatrist at New York University's Langone Medical Center and lead author of the study, told MedPage Today. "But there's something about the sanctity of the bedroom and the bed and the fact that bedbugs are attracted to warmth and attracted to blood, because that's how they feed, that really violates something that's really personal to the human experience."
Only 10 people, ranging in age from 21 to 75, participated in the study, but the researchers presented a detailed review of six of the 10 cases at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in Honolulu. After a bedbug infestation, some participants experienced anxiety, depression, controlled bipolar disorder and monosymptomatic delusional disorder in which one imagines that bugs are crawling all over the skin.
For other participants, it didn't take an actual infestation to trigger anxiety and symptoms of paranoia. Rieder said some of them exhibited tactile hallucinations. Even though they did not have a history of an infestation nor a history of psychosis, the participants were convinced that bedbugs were crawling on their skin. Rieder said the swirling media coverage surrounding the vermin may play a part in the paranoia that surrounds this condition.
"If you look at the media on a global basis, bedbugs are all over the place, and the incidence in the media, in newspapers, magazines, TV reports, has been going up steadily since the year 2001, so there may be some media-driven frenzy," Rieder told MedPage Today.
Any doctor seeing patients with bedbug infestation and pre-existing psychoses "should be on alert," Rieder said. "These people can decompensate even if they've been medically stable for a significant period of time."
Researchers said it's unclear why a bedbug infestation threatens the mental health of some more than others, but they hope to research the topic further, as bedbugs are not going away.
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