The recent bedbug comeback has spurred a surge in industry research and consumer education. That said, bedbugs are still the subject of hyped-up paranoia and confounding myths. So much so that some are wondering, "Should I delay my travels? Should I step outside my front door?"
Experts from the National Pest Management Association (www.pestworld.org), the American Hotel & Lodging Association (www.ahla.com), and the New York State Integrated Pest Management (www.nysipm.cornell.edu) help separate fact from fiction.
Myth #1: Bedbugs transmit disease.
Bedbugs have gained a reputation as a widespread nuisance: their bites produce itching and burning, they spread at a vigorous pace (females hatch 400 eggs in their lifetime), and they're difficult to quash completely (they can live up to a year without feeding and can withstand every temperature from near-freezing to 113°F.) But luckily, that's the worst of it. Unlike mosquitoes and ticks, the blood-feeding pests don't transmit diseases, and no such case has been reported thus far.
Myth #2: Bedbugs are a product of bad hygiene.
People think that spic-and-span environments don't draw bedbugs. But fact is, the main element of attraction is high occupancy. In other words, where there's food (i.e. humans), bedbugs will multiply, regardless of the level of cleanliness. This means travelers may encounter bedbugs while staying at a hole-in-the-wall motel -- or an über-luxe resort.
Myth #3: Once a bedbug, always a bedbug.
Places don't breed bedbugs. People transport them there. Use directories like the National Bed Bug Registry (www.bedbugregistry.com) -- which reports user-submitted incidents -- with caution, as a past infestation doesn't imply an ongoing one. Image-conscious hotels and other businesses hate the bad press and are unlikely to leave a pest problem untreated without the intention of going bust.
Myth #4: Infestations can be kept at bay with over-the-counter products.
A variety of bedbug control products have hit the consumer market, some undoubtedly designed for peace of mind. But be sure to read the label carefully before investing: what does the product claim? Keep in mind that sprays may eliminate bedbugs -- but only the ones that you see (the out-of-view survivors may kick-start another infestation.) Other sprays may kill the pests but not their eggs. Meanwhile, mattress encasements will seal bedbugs in or keep them out. But those sneaky bloodsuckers may find other places to lurk -- like behind the headboard, in your suitcase, or on a couch. When in doubt, consult a pest control professional.
Myth #5: I can't do anything about bedbugs.
The main method of bedbug transportation is human hitchhiking, therefore education is key in preventing infestations. Take the time to implement a few precautionary measures. For example: don't unpack until carefully inspecting your room, store clothing and personal items in plastic bags, and wash and dry clothes on high-heat settings when returning from your travels.
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