If you’ve been reading or listening to the news at all, you’ve probably heard bedbugs are back and with a vengeance. In the past few years, reports of bedbugs at hotels, dormitories, shelters, health care facilities, or on cruise liners, has skyrocketed. According to Cornell University, “Pest-control companies in Florida, a state that welcomes nearly 20 percent of international travelers to the US, have had a 10-fold increase in bedbug calls since 1999. Infestations have been reported in major cities, including Atlanta, New York and San Francisco,” and infestations are occurring worldwide.
Bedbugs resurfaced in part because their resilient creatures and because once DDT was banned, there wasn’t anything to control them. As shown above on the right, they look like small, flat, wingless, oval-shaped insects. Their about the size of a lentil, and people sometimes think they’re ticks. They don’t fly or hop, but they do scoot across floors, walls, and ceilings at break-neck speeds. They feed on warm-blooded animals (such as cats, dogs, humans, etc.) and are most adept at living with humans, as they have done so since ancient Greek times. Under the right circumstances, bedbugs are prolific at reproducing, and it doesn’t take much to develop a blood-sucking infestation.
Bedbugs like to feed where they live, and they usually bite people while their sleeping, although their most active feeding time is around dawn. These six-legged insects feed on any exposed skin, such as your face, legs, arms, back, or feet. They pierce a person’s skin with their syringe-like beak, withdraw blood, and leave a small amount of saliva behind. It usually takes about five to ten minutes for them to gorge themselves, and then they crawl away and hide somewhere dark. They don’t spread disease, but people who are bitten sometimes suffer from nausea, bumps, itching, welts, or skin infections.
Bedbugs like to catch rides, and it is their hitchhiking nature that spreads them. They can end up in your suitcase, clothing, or belongings, and they are particularly big problem for hotels, health facilities, and cruise liners because they are small and agile, and they easily spread from bed to bed, room to room, and floor to floor. They are also adept at hiding and any tight crevice or tiny place can be home for bedbugs. In fact, bedbugs can be found in the most pristine of buildings or the most elite hotels, as neither cleanliness nor filth affect their spread because they are just looking for warm-blooded hosts.
Bedbugs are challenging to control, and you’ll need a specialist to help you. They can live up to eighteen months without food, and even when bedbug infestation specialists are called in, it doesn’t mean the bedbugs will be leaving any time soon. Bedbugs do tend to congregate together and are usually found in certain places. Experts have a good idea of where they will find them and how to deal with them. So, if you face an invasion, you’ll need to work with experts to ensure the bedbug’s demise, and you’ll need to follow all the precautions they recommend.
When you travel, you may want to also use these tips:
- Ask about bedbugs. Find out if the hotel has had problems in the past, and, if they have, find out what they have done to remedy the situation. Most hotels are not completely infested with bedbugs, and it’s usually just a few rooms with the problem. So, you don’t need to be hysterical if they’ve had a problem.
- Check your room for signs of bedbugs. The most common place they hide is in, near, or around the bed. Look for them in cracks and crevices. Check the tufts and seams of the mattress, as well as the mattress tag. Look behind the headboard and especially check the box springs, as they offer bedbugs plenty of hiding spaces and the underside is dark. Check your sheets and bedding for bedbug signs. You should also check less common spots, such as along bed sides nearest the wall. You can tell if bedbugs have been or are present because they usually leave excrement behind, which is light brown or black specks. You may also find eggs, molted skin, or bloodstains. If treatments have been applied, even dead bugs or powders may be found in drawers or behind the headboard.
- If you find bed bugs, ask for another room. Nobody wants to sleep in a room with bedbugs, so request another room. Also, make sure the hotel’s management knows there’s a problem, and re-inspect the new room to make sure it’s bedbug free.
- Keep your items off the floor. Place suitcases, PC bags, and other belongings on desk tops, on metal luggage racks, or hang them up inside closets, thereby preventing the bugs from hitching a ride when you leave. Additionally, keep these items closed when you’re not using them, and, for future trips, make sure you keep clothing—both clean and dirty—inside tightly sealed plastic bags, so as to prevent them from attaching to your clothing. You should also tuck in linens and sheets when you sleep, so they’re not touching the floor and inviting bedbugs into your bed.
- Learn more information. Here’s some articles about bedbugs. From Consumer Reports, How to Deal with Bedbugs; Toronto Health site, Bedbugs; and Tallman Scientific, Bedbug Facts.
- Spray neem oil. Neem oil comes from India, and natives of India have used it as an effective pest deterrent for years. Apparently, you can either spray it full strength or mix in essential oils—such as tea tree, eucalyptus, or rosemary oil—about twenty drops. Lightly spray the room’s carpet, curtains, and mattress, which is supposedly enough to deter the pesky critters.
- Take precautions. One suggestion I heard is to apply double-sided tape swabbed with petroleum jelly to each leg of the bed. Supposedly, if they are hiding in the carpeting or other parts of the room, this makes it difficult for them to access you as you sleep.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel uncomfortable about a place, leave and find another hotel where you feel more comfortable.
- Inspect your belongings. When you’re ready to depart, take time to check your belongings, and make sure you don’t have any unwanted guests. Then, when you get home, launder your clothing in hot water, and dry it in the dryer for at least twenty minutes.