Bedbugs typically are thought of as a disgusting nuisance rather than a clear and present health danger, but a Canadian research team has discovered that they can carry potentially hazardous antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

As LiveScience reports, the researchers detected so-called superbugs in bedbugs extracted from three hospital patients in Vancouver. The presence of drug-resistant bacteria suggests that bedbugs, which break the skin when they bite humans, could spread infectious diseases.

The study’s leader, Dr. Marc Romney, a microbiologist at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, warned against drawing definitive conclusions from the study. But he said that the implications of the discovery of two types of superbugs, which go by the acronyms VRE and MRSA, could be significant.

Romney told Reuters that the preliminary findings about bedbugs suggest that they are “yet another factor that could be responsible for this large increase in resistant bacteria in inner cities in North America.” He noted, however, that scientists have found no evidence of bedbugs carrying blood-borne diseases such as hepatitis or HIV.

Bedbugs have garnered a great deal of attention in recent months because of their renewed presence in many urban areas, including in fancy hotels. The authors of the study, which appears in the Emerging Infectious Diseases publication from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that in the section of Vancouver where the patients were from, 31 percent of the residents have reported bedbug infestation.

Richard Oehler, a University of South Florida researcher who wasn’t affiliated with the study, wondered whether the ability to carry drug-resistant bacteria was limited to bedbugs. “This may potentially affect all ectoparasites,” he said in an email to LiveScience, referring to a category of pests that includes fleas and ticks.

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