Bedbugs don't make you sick. But the poisons used to kill them can.
A government study released Thursday found that dozens of Americans have fallen ill from the insecticides, and a North Carolina woman died after using 18 cans of chemical fogger to attack the tiny blood suckers.
Because many of the cases, including the lone death, were do-it-yourselfers who misused the chemicals or applied the wrong product, federal health officials are warning consumers to be careful and urging them to call professionals.
The report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counted 80 illnesses and one death linked to the insecticides over three years. Most of the cases were in New York City, the apparent epicenter of a recent U.S. bedbug comeback.
The CDC was able to get data from 12 states, and only seven had reports of such illnesses. One was New York, where bedbugs have become a highly publicized problem and where health officials have also been extra vigilant about reporting unusual chemical poisonings.
Investigators were relieved to find a relatively small number of cases.
"At this point, it's not a major public health problem," said Dr. Geoff Calvert, a CDC investigator who co-authored the study.
Bedbugs are wingless, reddish-brown insects that bite people and animals to draw blood for their meals. Though their bites can cause itching and welts, they are not known to spread disease.
"There's nothing inherently dangerous about bedbugs," said Dr. Susi Vassallo, an emergency medicine doctor who works at New York City's Bellevue Hospital Center and occasionally treats patients who report bedbug problems.
But the insects are a major hassle. In recent national surveys of exterminators, bedbugs were named the toughest pest to get rid of. They can hide for months, only come out at night and can be hard to spot with the human eye.
They are also creepy, provoking intense fear in the minds of many people unnerved by the threat that an almost invisible insect could emerge at night to drink their blood.