Residents of an impoverished area of Vancouver were infested with bedbugs carrying antibiotic-resistant bacteria, say researchers who warn doctors to watch out for the potential problem.

The letter in Wednesday's issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reported that two types of drug-resistant bacteria were isolated from bedbugs found on three patients.

The resistant bacteria were methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), a less dangerous form of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Christopher Lowe of the University of Toronto and medical microbiologist Marc Romney of Vancouver's St. Paul's Hospital suggest bedbugs carrying MRSA could transmit the bacteria during a blood meal.

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Bedbugs carrying antibiotic resistant bacteria might transmit the bacteria during a blood meal, Canadian researchers say. (Tim McCoy/Virginia Tech Department of Entomology/Associated Press)

"Because of the insect's ability to compromise the skin integrity of its host, and the propensity for S. aureus to invade damaged skin, bedbugs may serve to amplify MRSA infections in impoverished urban communities," Lowe and Romney write.

The three patients lived in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, which has high rates of homelessness, poverty, HIV/AIDS and injection drug use.

Similar to other cities worldwide, Vancouver has seen an alarming increase in bedbugs, particularly in Downtown Eastside, where 31 per cent of residents have reported infestations, the researchers said.

Likewise, MRSA is also a substantial problem in the neighbourhood, with nearly 55 per cent of skin and soft tissue infections in patients treated at St. Paul's emergency department showing MRSA, the authors said.

In drug injection users with wound infections, an earlier study showed 43 per cent were colonized or infected with a community-acquired MRSA strain found outside of hospitals.

The study was small with just five bedbugs and very preliminary, but "it's an intriguing finding" that needs to be further researched, said Romney.

Both resistant strains are often seen in hospitals, and experts have been far more concerned about nurses and other health-care workers spreading the bacteria than insects.

Given the high prevalence of MRSA in hotels and rooming houses in Downtown Eastside, the insects may act as "a hidden environmental reservoir for MRSA and may promote the spread of MRSA in impoverished and overcrowded communities," the authors said.

With files from The Canadian Press