It was like something out of a CSI episode. Nathalie Dade woke up in a Berlin hostel in sheets marred by her own blood. Red streaks and tiny black specs no larger than a pinhead lay scattered across her pillow. When one of the specs suddenly began to move, she writes, “I nearly fainted.”
Nathalie and most of her luggage had just incurred a bed bug infestation – and to her distress, she unknowingly carried a flock of them stateside. It wasn’t until she sustained months of inexplicable hives that Nathalie realized they had been transported to her home, and it cost over $5,000 to destroy them.
An epidemic once completely eradicated from the United States, bed bugs have become a severe, worldwide fiasco plaguing hotels and homeowners alike. With population levels higher than pre-WWII, bed bugs can infest anyone, anywhere. Whether or not you identify a bed bug infestation properly and take precautions to contain it may make the difference in thousands of dollars in pest treatments (and countless sleepless nights). Here are several facts & tips to prevent the next episode of A Bug’s Life from being filmed in your pillowcase.
Bed Bug Bummer #1: Cleanliness is not a deterrent.
While clean hotels are more likely to keep a bed bug epidemic in check, these pesky creatures can live under any conditions. With a “small” infestation numbering at 200 and the maximum span between meals up to one year, bed bugs can survive for a long time completely hidden and unfed.
TIP: Do your homework before arriving at a new hotel. If traveling within the US, Canada, or UK, www.bedbugregistry.com has thousands of user-submitted reviews regarding bed bug infestations. Google the name of the property + “bed bugs” to sniff out any news reports of infestations. Bed bugs are not only revolting, but also costly. Research carefully! Just because the room cost $500 per night does not mean that a pesky previous tenant left their creepy friends at home. Bed bugs infest expensive hotel rooms, too.
Bed Bug Bummer #2: They’re stealthier than Jason Bourne.
Tiny, fast, conniving. Bed bugs are not easily seen to the naked eye as they are light-sensitive. After snacking on whatever human (or pet) has entered their lair, they burrow themselves in dark places (mattresses, baseboards, zippers) to avoid detection. Spotting a bed bug infestation may not be easy, but is certainly worth a thorough investigation.
TIP: Bring a small, bright flashlight in your suitcase when traveling to a new hotel. Shine it behind the bed, along the baseboards, in the crevices of furniture & closets. Don’t disregard framed pictures and mirrors – apparently, bed bugs are lovers of art and hide there frequently. If you see small, tick-like creatures scattering as the light hits them, you may want to request another room or leave the hotel completely. Even ONE bed bug can hint at an infestation of thousands.
Bed Bug Bummer #3: They like to travel.
Bed bugs can hitch a ride on just about anything but your body. Unlike lice that cling to your tresses for dear life, bed bugs choose comfier spots like suitcases, backpacks, purses & clothing for their first-class flight to your bedroom. It only takes one or two undetected bed bugs to cause devastating effects on your entire home. If they can travel the seven seas, then they can certainly move from your bed to your couches, other rooms, etc.
TIP: Keep all suitcases off of the floor and bed in a new place. Avoid placing clothing in hotel drawers if possible, and thoroughly inspect dressers with the flashlight if you must indulge. Lint roll your clothing after spending extended time on a train with cushioned seats, and NEVER NEVER NEVER put your purse or backpack on the bed!
Bed Bug Bummer #4: They’re virtually unbeatable.
Call them the Spanish national soccer team. Bed bugs are tenacious, and won’t give up the good fight unless you are fully committed to eradicating them. If you discover that you may have brought home bed bugs (read: you have itchy hives across your body, a plethora of bed bugs & their casings near your bed, or have woken up with streaks of blood on your sheets), vacuuming & washing your sheets will not be enough precaution. It’s time to call the experts.
TIP: If you’ve recently traveled to a hotel that is reported to have bed bugs, DO NOT bring your suitcases and personal items into your home. If possible, launder your clothing before leaving the infected site. Items that can be laundered should be washed and dried in high heat. Separate the clothes once they are finished and pack them in air-tight plastic bags. For what cannot be laundered (dry-clean only, purses, personal items), heating or freezing methods should be undertaken.
HEAT – Collect all of your items in sealed, black contractor bags with thermometer attached. Place them in a hot car parked in sunlight or in an unshaded spot on your property. The bags must reach a core temperature of 120°F for at least two hours to destroy eggs.
FREEZE – Wrap products in bags and place in a freezer that is at minimum, 23°F. If the temperature is above -15°F, items must remain frozen for five days. Otherwise, they may be flash frozen at a minimum temperature of -15°F to destroy the eggs.
If you believe that your house has been infested, specially trained dogs that detect bed bugs can be called in to confirm which rooms of your home have been affected. These dogs are so powerful that they can identify within a three-foot radius. Afterward, two to three treatments by professionals may be required to eradicate the problem completely.
Bad boyfriends, a few extra traveling pounds & a stolen camera can all be taken care of…but an all-out, skin-crawling, unmanageable infestation? That’s one travel calamity you don’t want to get into bed with anytime soon.
Gillian Kemmerer is the founder of RSJ & the site’s main author.