Here’s why: Between 2000 and 2006, pest control companies have reported a whopping increase in cases of bedbugs — and hotels are one of the most popular breeding grounds.
Over the past several years, bedbugs have swarmed into the U.S. on a national scale — travelers from abroad are believed to bring them into hotels in major cities, where the first swell of cases is making itself known.
According to the National Pest Management Association, member pest control companies who originally received only about one or two bedbug calls a year, are now reporting one to two each week (overall)… that’s 50 times more calls.
However, there is good news. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), bedbugs are not a source of infectious disease. So while they certainly may be undesirable, there is no reason to panic. Having said that, here’s what you need to know about bedbugs.
What exactly is a bedbug, you ask?
The creepy little critters are small, reddish brown, wingless insects that feed solely upon warm-blooded animals. Adult bedbugs are about a quarter of an inch (about the size of an apple seed), and because they are so flat, they can hide in small crevices, like bed frames baseboards, wallpaper, upholstery, and carpeting. However, while adult bedbugs are easily visible, eggs are pale and less than a millimeter, so it’s easy to overlook them.
At night, when you’re sleeping, bedbugs are attracted to body warmth and carbon dioxide emissions, and come out to feed. With one tube they inject saliva, which contains anticoagulants and anaesthetics, while another tube withdraws blood from its host. The feeding, or “blood meal” takes about 10 minutes. Though the bite itself is painless, due to the anaesthetic, it leaves behind a red welt, similar to a mosquito bite. Someone with sensitive skin may have a more severe skin reaction, but treatment is usually limited to antihistamines and corticosteroids, along with antiseptic or antibiotic ointments to prevent infection.
In the U.S., bedbugs were essentially eradicated in the 1940s due to the powerful pesticide DDT. However these nocturnal bloodsuckers continued to thrive in most other countries, particularly in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. DDT was outlawed in the U.S. in 1972, and pest control practices have been changing over the past several years, including using shorter-lasting chemicals and more focused treatments.
Infestations have primarily taken over hotels and large cities, which see heavy traffic, but they’ve also been seen in hospitals, apartments and even single-family homes.
But bedbugs are not just targeting fleabag motels. One woman is suing the Nevele Resort & Country Club in Ellenville, NY for $20 million after waking up one morning with more than 500 bedbug bites. (PeterGreenberg.com attempted to reach the hotel for comment, but to date, no calls have been returned.)
In 2005, a Florida couple claims to have been bitten while on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. Royal Caribbean refunded their payment, paid for their accommodations in Puerto Rico and flew them home.
Travelers should be aware that, despite their name, bed bugs can be found almost anywhere in your hotel room. That means in the box springs, bed frames, picture frames, cabinets, the edges of wall to wall carpeting, window treatments and carpeting. Bed bugs have also been known to stow away inside luggage, or in clothing, like in the cuff of your pants.
Bedbugs are hardy creatures that can live for a year or more without feeding on blood, and can withstand temperatures from nearly freezing to almost 113 degrees F. That means that it’s not effective to simply close off a room that has been infested and hope that they’ll die out.
While bedbugs can’t be managed with over-the-counter bug sprays or disinfectants, the good news is that they CAN be exterminated with the efforts of a trained professional.
A pest control company will generally wash the bedding and put it in a commercial dryer for at least an hour at the highest heat setting. The bed is taken apart completely, and the mattress vacuumed and steamed. They also clean and steam the headboard and nightstand, and examine the carpets, draperies and wallpaper to see if they need to be treated as well.
Here are some tips on dealing with bedbugs during your travels:
- Before booking, check to see if there is an infestation alert for your hotel at http://www.bedbugregistry.com.
- Bedbugs tend to nestle in the mattress during the day, but they can also hide out in headboard, nearby lamps, carpets and walls. Check for dark spots (excrement) on your bed and surrounding areas. If you see anything suspicious, alert the management and have them change your room immediately.
- Don’t place your suitcase or clothes on the bed or floor, and avoid the drawers if you can help it. Use the luggage rack and hang up your clothes.
- Inspect your luggage upon leaving and when you return from your trip.
- Wash your clothes and vacuum your suitcases upon returning from your trip.
Finally, don’t freak out. While bedbug infestations are becoming more frequent, they are not an everyday occurrence, so your chances for bug-free travels are still high.
By Sarika Chawla for PeterGreenberg.com