With the holiday season upon us, many of us will be traveling. With travel comes the risk of a very personal encounter with bed bugs.
Until recently, bedbugs were so rare that many professionals had never seen one except in books. In fact, even though I have been in pest control for almost 40 years, traveled most of the United States, much of Canada, and parts of Europe, the first one I encountered wasn't until 10 years ago.
Bed bugs have developed resistance to most pesticides, and due to the increased mobility of humans in general, this pest has seen a resurgence throughout the world.
Bed bugs are easy to get but tough to get rid of. Frequently, this is because infestations aren't detected until they are six to eight months old.
There are several reasons it takes so long to find out you have them. Because they have evolved along with us, many people will not develop a welt at the site of a bite until they have been exposed for several weeks. They have an anesthetic in their saliva that allows them to bite us without causing any pain. They don't stay on us like fleas, ticks, or lice. They are nocturnal and remain hidden off our bodies except when feeding, and they can survive without feeding for six to eight months.
So how do they get from place to place and into your home? People. Bed bugs don't live outside and invade our homes. They need people to move them from place to place. Even though they don't hide on our bodies, they are adept at hitchhiking on our belongings. It only takes one fertile female or a couple of eggs or nymphs to start an infestation.
For the average homeowner, the greatest risk is when we travel. Bed bugs have been found living in aircraft, cruise ships, buses, and even public transportation.
When you travel, you are sharing everything with everyone who has traveled before you. Once you check your bags, they go on the same conveyor belt into the same storage compartment as everybody else's. They go into the same taxi or rental car trunk as everybody else’s. When you get to your room, they go into the same closet as everybody else’s.
Then at the end of the journey, you carry all those belongings into your home.
So, now that you’re cringing at the thought of going out your front door, what can you do to protect against these cryptic critters when you travel?
First, have a general idea of what a bed bug looks like. Imagine a reddish-brown sesame seed about 1/4 inch long with 6 legs, and you have a rough idea of what an adult looks like. Immature stages have the same shape but can be as small as 1.5 millimeters (that’s small enough to crawl through the stitching on a mattress).
Second, before unpacking in a motel or stateroom, take a few minutes for a brief inspection. Except in severe infestations, bed bugs seldom infest bathrooms, so this is usually a good place to stage your bags while inspecting the room.
Bed bugs depend on us for food, so if a room is infested, the bed is the first place to look. Pull back the sheets from the mattress and check along the seams. You want to check for insects but also their droppings. Droppings look like someone has taken a dark brown or black felt-tip marker and dabbed it on the fabric.
Most headboards are removable and can be lifted off the wall. Check the cracks for insects and droppings.
Check the back and top edges of the nightstand. Pull the drawer out of the nightstand and check the inside of the cabinet.
If these three places are clear, you can be pretty sure the room is not infested.
If you do find insects, remember, this pest likely is limited to one or two rooms. Report them to the manager and ask for a pest-free room.
Lastly, upon arriving home, quarantine your luggage in the garage and launder your clothing. All stages of this insect are vulnerable to detergent and heat. At temperatures above 117 degrees, they die in just a few minutes. Anything that can safely be put in the dryer on high heat can be rendered bug-free in about 10 minutes.
Luggage can then be placed in plastic garbage bags with a "No Pest Strip" with the end tied in a knot or taped shut for storage.
This may sound a bit involved, but it is a lot easier than spending upwards of $1000.00 to treat an infestation.
If somehow they still manage to get into your home, get professional help. We have some very effective tools you won't find on the internet. Even if you want to attempt to treat an infestation yourself, getting professional guidance can prevent a lot of wasted effort.