The holidays are nearly upon us, and we are coming into winter when travel increases. Whether that means heading for relatives for a holiday gathering and feast, escaping the clutches of winter or heading to the slopes, lots of people are on the move at this time of year. Bed bugs, ever the opportunists, love to hitchhike to a new home in the clothing and luggage of a traveler.
So how should you protect yourself?
Prior to a trip, an ATCO Pest Control client recently asked for our advice about avoiding taking home “uninvited guests” from her accommodations. At our suggestion, upon arrival, she not only checked her bed—pulling back the sheets to look at the mattress pad and box spring—but she completed a bigger inventory. With a small flashlight, she also searched:
- behind the headboard,
- around and inside the night stands, including the lamps and shades,
- behind art work hung about the room,
- even in books.
Had she the inclination and the tools, she might have looked inside light switches and outlets.
But even without those additional measures, what did she find? Bed bugs. She immediately called the front desk to let them know and requested another room, and not one adjacent to the one she had inspected. In hotels, as well as in apartment buildings and other places where there are multiple living and sleeping areas, bed bugs move laterally between rooms. We hope the hotel staff sprang into action quickly to head off a greater problem. But our client, at least, was safe.
Never Do This!
Something you should never do when you enter your accommodations during travel? Place your suitcase on the bed. While it’s clear from the above that bed bugs may hide in several areas of a particular room, they want to be close to the source of their food, and that is the bed where humans, their “blood hosts,” spend the greatest amount of time in the room. So, putting your luggage directly on the bed provides an opportunity to any bugs that are there to get aboard and come home with you. You may also help them migrate to other accommodations on the way.
With that in mind, another important, often overlooked place to inspect for bed bugs is a luggage rack or valet. If other travelers haven’t been as careful as you have, they may have planted a future infestation there. Using your flashlight if necessary, do a thorough inspection, concentrating on cracks and crevices.
The safer alternative is to put your suitcase on a hard surface. Bed bugs might leave a harborage to cross those areas, but as there would be no protection for them, they would not linger. The tile floor in the bathroom is one good option, as is inside the shower or tub, if there is one. Some travelers have bags that can be hung in the closet or from an interior door. If the room has a section of hardwood flooring, that is another alternative.
Seeing Is Believing
One difficulty in performing the kind of inspection we suggest is that your target is elusive. Bed bugs are small insects. Adult bed bugs are flat, oval and reddish-brown—about the size of an apple seed. Juvenile bed bugs are even smaller and more difficult to see.
That small flashlight we suggested to our ATCO client is a good thing to have with you when you travel. With it, you will be able to better check out some of the out-of-the-way places the pests can hide, including those tricky places behind headboards and framed artwork.
The Bed Bug Stigma
As you may already know, there is a well-established mythology around bed bug infestation, suggesting that they are a sign of poor housekeeping and an unclean habitat. Given what we know now about their opportunistic behavior and their resiliency—a bug can live 6 to 8 months without a blood meal, and is genetically equipped to withstand common poisons—the presence of bed bugs isn’t a condemnation. But people remain sensitive and can be embarrassed by the revelation that their homes or businesses are infested. They may be resistant to the news.
Nevertheless, quick action is a must. With many more homes open to the public thanks to the proliferation of AirB&B and other vacation rental sites, more homes could be vulnerable to these hitchhikers. If you find bed bugs, be sure to let the owner or manager know. There is no need to shame them. Just make sure you are moved to an agreeable new location.
At ATCO Pest Control, we are happy to provide information and answer your questions about bed bugs or any other pest. EcoWise® and Diamond Certified®, we are an excellent resource for all your PMP needs.