For many the holiday season means traveling or maybe having out of town guests. One guest that no one wants to bring home with them is the infamous Bed Bug. Bed bugs have not been a problem in the United States for almost 50 years, but in recent years there has been a resurgence. Travelling is one of the most common ways of running into bed bugs. Bed bugs are good at being stow-a-ways so you may not even know that they hitched a ride home with you.
Bed bugs are small parasitic insects that feed on blood, usually from people. They will feed on other warm-blooded animals, including birds, rodents, bats and pets. Cimex lectularius is the bed bug found in the northern temperate climates of North America, Europe and Central Asia. Bed bugs are mainly nocturnal, often biting people who are asleep. The bed bug uses its sharp beak to pierce the host’s skin and inject a fluid containing an anticoagulant that helps them obtain blood. Skin rashes, allergic symptoms and even psychological effects may result from bites.
Adult bed bugs are oval in shape, brown to reddish-brown in color, wingless and flattened top to bottom. Unfed bugs are 1/4 to 3/8 inch long and the upper surface of the body has a crinkled appearance. After feeding, bed bugs look purplish-red and are more cigar-shaped. Newly hatched bed bugs are nearly colorless. Eggs are small and white.
Bed bugs can infest airplanes, ships, trains, taxis and buses. Hotel rooms should always be inspected for bed bugs. Inspecting the mattress and head board is usually enough to tell if bed bugs are present. Pull back the bedding at the head of the bed to look for bed bugs or their fecal stains on the mattress. Bed bugs leave small brown or black spots and smears. Check the mattress tag, mattress seams and the box springs. Carefully inspect the head board. Bed bugs can squeeze into small cracks and crevices. If you find evidence of bed bugs call the front desk and ask for another room.
Here are some other tips when staying in a hotel. Inspect the luggage stand (where the straps attach to the metal bars) and put your bag on the stand away from the wall. Do not put your suitcase on the spare bed. Do not put your belongings in drawers. Check the closet for bed bugs before hanging clothes. A flashlight would be helpful. Do not put shoes under the bed or in the closet. Bed bugs can crawl into your luggage so do a thorough inspection before bringing it into the house. When you get home, launder all clothing immediately. Unpack your luggage in a room without carpet so bed bugs will have to travel before they find a place to hide. Wipe a wet cloth over the floor to get any bed bugs that may have escaped.
If you think that your luggage did encounter bed bugs, seal your suitcase in a plastic bag until you can clean it. Suitcases can be washed using hot (100 to 120 degrees F), soapy water. First test it to make sure it will not be adversely affected. Use a scrub brush along the seams and folds. For short trips if you use a soft bag like a duffel bag, you will be able to put the bag in the dryer when you get home. To kill bed bugs the dryer needs to get hot (140 degrees F) for 20 to 30 minutes. Dry cleaning and steam cleaning will kill bed bugs in fabrics, including soft luggage, which cannot be washed and dried. If you take anything to the dry cleaners tell them the items might have bed bugs. They should keep the articles in plastic bags until they are ready to clean them.
If you are having out of town guests be aware of what might be hiding in their luggage. Bed bugs can hide in the crevices of luggage, furniture, clothing, pillows, boxes and other objects. College students are often at risk of a bed bug infestation due to frequent moves and travel and purchasing used furniture. Bed bugs may hitch a ride on clothing that people wear, but unlike lice they will not stay on a person after feeding. Since bed bugs feed on blood, their presence has little to do with the cleanliness of the home.
If you think you have found a bed bug the first step is to correctly identify the pest. Try to catch it on a piece of clear tape or put it in a sealed plastic bag, so you can have it identified by a pest management professional. Controlling bed bugs on your own can be difficult and time consuming. Treatment by a pest management professional is strongly recommended. Bed bug control can be achieved by following an integrated pest management (IPM) approach. This involves multiple strategies, including preventive measures, sanitation and applying chemicals. Insecticides should never be applied to a mattress.
Currently there is no simple and inexpensive way to eliminate bed bug infestations so their populations are becoming more widespread. For that reason everyone should learn how to identify bed bugs and how to inspect items to avoid introducing them to your home.