Icky, Nasty Creepy Crawlies that Commonly Lurk in Bed Sheets

We go beyond bedbugs, cautioning you against mites, lice and more.

Posted by Steve Graham | Mar 04, 2011
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She's cute, but probably is carrying mites.  Photo: markhillary/Flickr.

By Steve Graham, Networx Staff Writer

Warning: Do not read this story unless you have clean sheets on hand, or at least time to wash the sheets. You might not be able to sleep after learning what diseases and bugs could be lurking in your bed.

We’ve all heard the bedbug horror stories this year, but bedbugs don’t generally carry or trigger diseases. They just bite and annoy. The same cannot be said of other nasties that could be lurking in the sheets, including lice, mites and fungus. Here is the lowdown on bedborne diseases and bugs.

Keep in mind that most of these problems can be avoided by washing bedding weekly in hot water. Blankets and comforters that can’t be laundered should be dry cleaned once a year. 


Dust Mites

Dust mites live in most homes, settling into bedding and upholstered furniture and looking for dead skin and animal dander to eat. Dust mites do not bite or burrow under the skin. However, they can trigger asthma attacks and are a common allergen.

According to research at the University of Nebraska, humans shed about 0.2 ounces of dead skin each week, and spend about a third of our lives in bed. That adds up to a standing buffet for microscopic dust mites.

However, there are safe ways to minimize dust mites. Use hypoallergenic mattress covers and pillowcase covers. Also avoid down-filled pillows, quilts and comforters, and remove stuffed animals, extra pillows and other clutter that might harbor dust.

Dust mites thrive at high temperatures with high humidity, so cutting home humidity levels can help. Also keep furry pets out of the bedroom if you suffer from dust mite allergies or asthma.

Scabies Mites

Another mite is less common but more frightening. Scabies mites burrow under the skin and cause a nasty and itchy rash. Scratching scabies rashes, in turn, can cause the skin to be infected with bacteria.

The mites can live on sheets for up to 72 hours after jumping off an infected human host.

Body Lice

Body lice can spread epidemic typhus, trench fever and louse-borne relapsing fever, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Body lice can be found in clothing and bedding all over the world, although the CDC reports that body lice in the United States is typically only found in homeless populations or others who cannot bathe or wash their clothing regularly.

Head lice are more common, but don’t live on bedding. Public lice, or crabs, also can’t live on beds.


Bedding doesn’t just harbor insects. Ringworm is caused by one of many fungi that infected people can leave on bedding. Ringworm is particularly common among children. It causes rings of itchy, scaly skin that could blister and ooze. It can also ravage the scalp, groin and nails.

If someone is suspected of being diagnosed with ringworm, wash any bedding they may have used.

It’s a scary list, but keep in mind that washing sheets weekly in warm water can avoid most problems. And sleep tight. Don’t let the bedbugs bite … or the lice or the mites or the fungi.

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