What Happens if Patients With Cancer Have Bedbugs?

July 19, 2018 by Chris Pirschel ONS Staff Writer/Producer

Lurking in the dark corners of bedrooms across the country, unseen figures wait to feast of the blood of humans and animals alike. When the lights go dark, they come out for dinner. No, they’re not vampires or mystical beasts—they’re bedbugs. These parasitic insects feed exclusively on the blood of humans and animals and are a prevalent parasite in the United States (http://doi.org/10.4172/2161-0983.1000143)

Unfortunately, bedbugs aren’t just confined to bedrooms and dorm rooms, they can make their way into hospitals as well. Any place where humans reside and congregate are considered fertile grounds for bedbugs. According to a 2013 study, more than one-third of pest management companies reported (http://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.109-4491) that they responded to bedbug infestations in hospitals.

How Problematic Are Bedbugs?

Bedbugs aren’t known to carry communicable diseases; however, their bites can lead to skin rashes, allergic reactions, and potential secondary infections (https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/bedbugs/faqs.html), especially in patients with cancer with weakened immune systems. The Environmental Protection Agency (http://npic.orst.edu/pest/bedbug/tacklingbbstarterguide.pdf) also suggested that bedbug bites and infestations can lead to sleep loss, heightened anxiety, and a reduced quality of life. 

Often, bedbugs are brought into hospitals and medical institutions on patients’ clothing and belongings. A conversation on the ONS communities highlighted (http://communities.ons.org/communities/community-home/digestviewer/viewthread?GroupId=241&MessageKey=200bee87-05f0-4623-91f8-a68b87b2d316&CommunityKey=0b54ba80-79aa-446b-80ae-5434d67c4adf&tab=digestviewer) instances where oncology nurses treated patients with a bedbug infestation in an outpatient setting. Most hospitals will have standing policies to handle patients and bedbugs, but outpatient settings may be less defined. It’s always best to check with administrators when a situation arises.   

Treating Patients With Known Bedbugs

Although institutional policy will always dictate how—and if—patients with a known case of bedbugs can be treated, many oncology nurses on the ONS communities noted (http://communities.ons.org/communities/community-home/digestviewer/viewthread?GroupId=241&MessageKey=200bee87-05f0-4623-91f8-a68b87b2d316&CommunityKey=0b54ba80-79aa-446b-80ae-5434d67c4adf&tab=digestviewer) that their organizations adhered to similar procedures:

In some cases, organizations may request that a patient is clear of bedbugs before he or she can return for treatment, which includes exterminating sources at the home. Social workers are a great resource to help patients address an infestation issue. They can coordinate with patients and exterminators to determine the best path to get patients back into treatment as quickly as possible.  

Finding Bedbugs After a Patient Visit

If bedbugs aren’t discovered until after a patient has left, nurses should immediately report it to administration, so an exterminator can be contacted. Pest control experts recommend capturing bug specimens to aid in identifying the root cause of the infestation and assist in the extermination process.

Nurses need to be aware of the warning signs associated with bedbugs so they can watch for future issues. Visual confirmation of wingless brown bugs, approximately the size of an apple seed at their largest, is the most specific sign (http://blogs.hcpro.com/osha/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/BOIC_0111_4-8.pdf). However, other red flags include:

Copyright © 2018 by the Oncology Nursing Society. User has permission to print one copy for personal or unit-based educational use. Contact pubpermissions@ons.org for quantity reprints.