Sensitivity to bites by the bedbug, Cimex lectularius

Med Vet Entomol. 2009 Jun;23(2):163-6. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2915.2008.00793.x. Epub 2009 Mar 9.


Bedbugs are a public health problem and can cause significant economic losses, but little is known about the effects of bites on humans. We reviewed case reports and published papers on bedbug bites to assess the empirical basis of the commonly cited figure that only approximately 80% of the population are sensitive to bedbug bites. We found the sensitivity estimate to be based on only one study carried out 80 years ago. However, this study did not account for the now well-established fact that only repeated exposure to external allergens leads to skin reactions. In our sample, 18 of 19 persons showed a skin reaction after bedbug exposure, but in most cases only after repeated controlled exposure. With repeated exposure, the latency between bite and skin reactions decreased from approximately 10 days to a few seconds. Our results are relevant for the hospitality industry, where apparently increasing infestation rates are likely to lead to an increase in the number of tourists and hotel employees exposed to bedbugs. Medical and public health professionals may expect to see an increase in the prevalence of people with bedbug bite sensitivity. The significance of the delayed reaction time of skin to bites may also have implications in litigation cases where people seek compensation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Antigens
  • Bedbugs / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity*
  • Insect Bites and Stings / immunology*
  • Male
  • Time Factors


  • Antigens