They're back and they're bigger than ever: After a decades-long hiatus, bedbugs have made a creepy-crawly comeback in hotels, office buildings, department stores -- you name it -- all across the U.S. In fact, according to a recent poll conducted by the National Pest Management Association (www.pestworld.org), 95% of the pest control companies surveyed reported a bedbug infestation within the last year -- up an astounding 70% from more than a decade ago.
The pesky critters can induce itchy, red welts and enough anxiety to make travelers wonder if they should stay home. Luckily, there are plenty of precautionary measures to reduce the risks of an encounter while on the road. Sleep better at night by following these expert tips from the NPMA, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (www.ahla.com), and the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program (www.nysimp.cornell.edu).
With proper identification, a thorough room inspection, and careful packing and unpacking, you can stop worrying about sleeping tight -- and letting the bedbugs bite.
What Do Bedbugs Look Like?
Wingless bedbugs range in size from 1 to 7 millimeters, are reddish brown, and flat and oval in shape. Fecal droppings (brown or black stains that look like pepper flakes), shed skins, and the tinier translucent eggs and nymphs (juveniles) are evidence of the live pest.
Pre-Trip Packing Tips
A hard-shelled suitcase has fewer folds and seams where bedbugs can hide. Pack your belongings -- clothes, toiletries, shoes -- in sealable plastic bags, and open only when accessing the items. Alternatively, consider wrapping your entire pack in a trash bag to stave off potential infestations during your travels.
Before Unpacking Your Luggage
Many travelers throw a suitcase on the bed or keep the bag zipped up on the floor in hopes of keeping out any wandering scourges. Instead, place your baggage -- including any purses, backpacks, or camera bags -- on a luggage rack or in the bathroom, where there are fewer nooks and crannies.
How to Inspect Your Hotel Room
Bedbugs like to lodge themselves into cracks, crevices, folds, and ruffles in areas frequently trafficked by humans. When you arrive, pull back the covers of the bed and inspect under the linens and pillows. Use a flashlight if necessary. Look in the seams and sides of the mattress, box spring, and frame, and then check behind the headboard. The majority of the pests away from the bed will be within close proximity: under and around nightstands and lamps, and in the pleats of upholstered furniture (a favored hideaway) and drapes. The bloodsuckers can also reside behind wall hangings, such as mirrors and paintings.
If You Suspect an Outbreak
Don't take things into your own hands. If you squash one pest, it doesn't mean that there aren't others lurking in the crevices. Work with hotel management to find the best solution. When switching rooms, don't accept one directly adjacent, above, or below the infested room, as bedbugs can easily hitch a ride to neighboring spaces via housekeeping carts, wall sockets, and luggage. Each property and brand has a different protocol regarding pest control. Many hotels will distribute bedbug fact sheets, assure proper treatment of affected areas, offer alternative accommodations, and launder your clothes for free. Unfortunately, sleep sacks can't protect you from getting bitten; bedbugs can feed through the fabric or crawl through the opening of the sack as you snooze.
When You Get Home
Even just a few of these critters can start a full-blown infestation, should you inadvertently carry them back to your abode. Conduct a thorough inspection of your suitcase outdoors or in the garage, away from furniture and sleeping areas. If you live in an apartment, use your balcony, bathtub, or shower (bedbugs have a harder time crawling up smooth surfaces and are easier to spot against light colors). In the worst-case scenario, keep the suitcase out in the hallway. Pay special attention to pockets, linings, and seams. Then thoroughly vacuum or steam clean the bag before stowing it away. Wash all of your clothes -- even those unworn -- on a high-heat setting, and dry for at least 30 minutes. This will kill any previously undetected bugs.
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