The mechanical transmission of hepatitis B virus by the common bedbug (Cimex lectularius L.) in South Africa

  • P.G. Jupp
  • S.E. McElligott
  • G. Lecatsas


Tests for both hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) and hepatitis e antigen (HBeAg) were carried out on wild-caught and laboratory-colonized bedbugs (Cimex lectularius L.), the latter after hepatitis B virus (HBV)-positive blood-meals. Positivity for both antigens was interpreted as an indication of HBV infectivity. Of 22 pools in which were tested 211 bugs collected in the northern Transvaal, 18 were HBsAg-positive and 17 HBeAg-positive, with estimated infection rates of 156,7 and 137.7 per 1000 bugs respectively. Passage of HBV in bugs, allowing an extrinsic incubation period of 57-69 days, resulted in 19 out of 25 bugs being positive for HBsAg after the first passage; only a small number of these were positive for HBeAg. After the second passage all bugs tested were HBsAg-negative, showing that the virus had disappeared. Tests on the salivary glands and carcass of each bug at intervals up to 31 days after an infective meal showed a positivity rate of 98% (HBsAg) and 17% (HBeAg) for carcasses and 20% (HBsAg) and 0% (HBeAg) for salivary glands. Attempts to detect HBV particles in the salivary glands by electron microscopy failed. Bugs were shown to continue to excrete HBsAg in their faeces up to the 42nd day, and both HBsAg and HBeAg together up to the 30th day. HBsAg particles were only detected by electron microscopy in faeces hal1lested on the 10th day. The results as a whole· indicate that no biological mUltiplication of virus occurs in C. lectularius but that mechanical transmission from inseCts to man could occur by: (i) contamination of a person when crushing infective bugs; (ii) contamination from infected faeces; and (iii) infection by bite due to regurgitation or interrupted feeding.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135