Tucking yourself into a cozy bed should be the warmest, safest, most stress-free part of your day. But if bedbugs are tucked in with you, your sweet dreams can quickly turn into a real-life horror show!
“We listened to the entire report in utter shock, said Belsham. “It was too late to find another hotel that night so we spent a good hour turning the room upside down, looking for bed bugs. We slept with the lights on and looked for another room the next night.”
Bedbug infestations are on the rise across the country and around the world. These equal-opportunity pests travel freely between high-end hotels, pristine private homes, office buildings, schools and even hospitals. Bedbugs can tuck themselves into luggage and hitchhike in shopping bags, helping their relocation efforts but hampering your comfort and health.
“A common misperception people have is the belief that bedbugs are only found in and around beds. Absolutely untrue,” says Missy Henriksen, Vice President of Public Affairs for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). “Because they need humans for their very survival, bed bugs can be anywhere humans are. They travel with people and on people’s belongings, and that’s really why we’re starting to see bedbugs spread out into what we’d consider to be atypical locations like office buildings, movie theaters, stores and even hospitals.”
Being aware of how bedbugs survive and thrive is critical to preventing a bedbug nightmare where you live or work, and will make eradication efforts that much more effective.
Bedbug’s bad behavior
Bedbugs are bloodsucking insects, so named because of their nocturnal tendency to feed on a bed’s occupants. Humans are their main blood meal source, but warm-blooded animals such as family pets, birds and rodents can also be targets.
Adult bedbugs are pretty simple to spot in the rare moments they’re out and about, being about a quarter-inch long and flat shaped--kind of like a brownish seed or lentil.
Bedbugs need blood in order to survive, and if they’re in a place where their food source is scarce, these sneaky pests can slow their life process down for as much as a year while they await their next dining opportunity. Between meals, they’ll tuck themselves into any and all small crevices around the human environment, from seams in bedding and mattresses to areas behind wood molding, between floorboards and inside electrical boxes. Then they lie in wait for their next victim, or a free ride to a potential food source.
If you don’t immediately spot a sly bedbug in one of their typical hideouts, your first hint of an infestation will be the appearance of small brownish or reddish dots on bed linens or other soft, fibrous surfaces. These are the droppings bed bugs leave behind after a feeding frenzy, sometimes accompanied by the exoskeletons they shed.
If you’ve been bitten by bedbugs, the evidence will usually be swelling and redness at the site of the bite, caused by bedbug saliva; however, there can be a delay of several days between the actual bite and a telltale skin reaction.
As upsetting as a bedbug infestation may be, a bed bug infestation is not evidence of poor housekeeping or unsanitary conditions, so don’t let embarrassment keep you from reacting quickly to bed bug signals. Between our increased national and international mobility and the declining use of broad spectrum pesticides and other chemicals, it’s become very easy for bed bugs to travel to and set up housekeeping in places they never would have been seen before.
The recent resurgence of bed bugs has certainly kept pest control professionals busy, with 20 percent of U.S. pros responding to a recent NPMA/University of Kentucky survey reporting that they’d performed over 100 bed bug services in the past year. What’s more, 76 percent of the pest control professionals surveyed believe bedbugs are the most difficult pest to treat--a big hint that you shouldn’t try to tackle the job yourself.
Over-the-the counter bedbug treatments exist, but they’re not always effective (bedbugs have built up resistance to some), and misuse of these and other chemicals can introduce other health threats. That’s why at the first sign of a bed bug infestation it’s best to contact your local pest control service. They’ll begin by confirming the presence and extent of the bedbug infestation, sometimes with the help of well-trained bed bug dogs and determine the best treatment according to the scale of the infestation and geographic location of your home.
“There are different strains of bedbugs,” advises Henriksen. “So with some bedbugs, eradicating them with a certain product can be very effective, while in a different state, that same product won’t work. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to work with professionals in removing bedbugs.”
Professional bedbug remedies include specific selected pesticides as well as heat, freezing and vacuum treatments. A few weeks after the eradication is performed, the pest control pro will return to examine the infestation site to ensure that bedbugs are truly gone and haven’t left unhatched eggs behind. And the cost? Once again, it all depends on the size and type of infestation. Treatment price tags range from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand, but the investment has to be made to keep bed bugs from living off of your family and traveling with you to other locations.
Preventing a bedbug nightmare
There’s a lot you can do to prevent bedbugs from making themselves at home in the first place, so take note of the following:
- When unpacking shipments at work or home, carefully inspect contents for signs of bedbugs.
- Be careful about bringing second-hand furniture into your home. What looks like a great vintage find or sidewalk sale item may actually be a condo for bedbugs.
- When shopping for clothing or soft goods, inspect items for bedbugs and the stains they leave behind. Keep purchased items securely packaged in store bags for the trip home, and shake out articles outside before bringing them indoors. Immediately launder clothing and linens.
- Eliminate clutter that provides comfortable cover for bedbugs and easy transfer to human comfort zones.
Tips for Travelers
- Before you book any hotel, Google the name of the hotel and “bedbugs.” If bedbugs have ever been found at that location, chances are there’ll be a report online. In fact, several blogs exist that are dedicated to reporting bedbug experiences, and sites like TravelAdvisor.com are bound to include reports as well.
- At hotels, take time to thoroughly inspect your room before unpacking and settling in. Pull back coverlets and sheets and inspect mattress seams, particularly at the corners. Check the undersides of dust ruffles. Look around and behind headboards, molding and mirrors, and check upholstered furnishings for evidence of bedbugs. If you find you’re not the first “guest” to arrive in the room, report signs of bedbugs immediately and switch to a room that’s neither adjacent to, above nor below the one you’re in. Bedbugs travel in walls and on housekeeping carts.
- During hotel stays, hang clothing and keep your suitcase and belongings off of upholstered areas and floors.
- When you arrive home from your travels, inspect and vacuum your suitcases before bringing them indoors. Then launder all clothes you’ve taken on your trip, whether they’re dirty or not.
Being knowledgeable, vigilant and prepared is key to keeping bedbugs out of your life and preventing bedbug worries from impacting travel and other activities you enjoy. But it’s also important to keep the bed bug threat in perspective. Says Henriksen, “Though they are very real and the issues of dealing with them are very challenging, they’re not hiding in every nook and cranny.” Well, at least not yet anyway.