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Bedbugs? Fix may be worse than bugs themselves

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(CBS/AP) Bothered by bedbugs? Maybe you should be more bothered by the potentially dangerous insecticides often used to get rid of the creepy-crawly bloodsuckers.

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A CDC report released on Thursday blamed one death and 80 illnesses on bedbug insecticides over a three-year period. Many of the cases involved do-it-yourselfers who misused the insecticides or used the wrong one. Most of the cases were in New York City, the home of several highly publicized bedbug infestations.

The report incorporated data from seven states that track such illnesses: California, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas and Washington as well as New York.

Investigators said they were relieved to see that the number of cases was relatively small.

"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 suck the blood of people and animals. Though their bites can cause intense itching, they don't spread disease.

"There's nothing inherently dangerous about bedbugs," said Dr. Susi Vassallo, an emergency medicine doctor at New York City's Bellevue Hospital Center. Vassallo, who is also a toxicologist, said most insecticides used against bedbugs do not pose a health risk but should be applied by an exterminator.

The CDC study counted 111 cases in the years 2003 through 2010. Most occurred in the last few years, when bedbug reports rose across the nation. More than half were in New York City.

Most were people with headaches or dizziness, breathing problems or nausea and vomiting.

The one bedbug pesticide-related death occurred in 2010. The victim was a 65-year-old woman from Rocky Mount, N.C., who had a history of heart trouble. She and her husband used nine cans of insecticide fogger one day, and then the same amount two days later, without opening doors and windows to air out their home afterward. She also covered her body and hair with another bedbug product, and covered her hair with a plastic cap.

CDC officials said it's not clear that the insecticides were the cause of illness in each of the cases, and it's possible some were coincidental.

About 90 percent of the cases were linked to pyrethroids or pyrethrine insecticides. But in some cases, an incorrect and more dangerous product was used. That happened in Ohio last year, when an uncertified exterminator used malathion - which shouldn't be used indoors - to rid an apartment of bedbugs. A couple and their 6-year-old child got sick.

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