Bed Bugs And How They Travel
Do Bed Bugs Travel on People?
Believe it or not, bed bugs can travel via human hosts. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images News/Getty Images )
They’re creepy, they’re crawly and they’re often quite difficult to spot. Bed bugs – blood-sucking, tiny parasites that dine on human and animal hosts – have become a concern worldwide due to their stealthy ways of getting around. Unfortunately, the little critters are more mobile than we would like to think.
Bed Bug Bites and Basics
Bed bugs – named for one of their favorite hangouts – tend to be found in linens, between cracks in mattresses and even in cracks and crevices in the floor. They leech off their human or animal hosts, with bed bug bites leaving scabby trails of rashes and marks across the skin. Because they are mostly active at night, it can take awhile for a person to notice that his home or hotel room has bed bugs.
How Bed Bugs Spread
Not everyone is aware that bed bugs can be spread via humans: if a person goes to a hotel room that has bed bugs, and the bed bugs hide out on the person or on the person’s luggage, the bed bugs can be spread to a new location. Because of this, no house is safe from a bed bug infestation. Bed bugs can spread from house to house, living in even the cleanest conditions; bed bugs are not a sign that a person’s home is dirty or unkempt.
Looking for Bed Bug Evidence
If you suspect that your home has been hit by bed bugs, look for the following telltale signs: small scabs or rashes in a line-like pattern on your skin, small fecal droppings or small blood smears on your sheets. The bed-bug bites will most likely be across your face, arms, or legs – the areas that are not covered by your pajamas as you sleep. Remember, though, that not all people will develop a rash if being bitten. You’ll also want to check for bugs in your mattress and in your luggage by closely inspecting them.
Eradicating Bed Bugs for Good
Though a variety of sprays and ointments are out there marketed as beg-bug killers, the truth is that many of these products do not work. You can attempt to rid yourself of these pests by vacuuming every inch of your apartment and by putting your linens in a dryer set on the highest setting. While it’s rare to find bed bugs on the clothes you’re wearing – they tend to fall off once you start moving – you should still wash any potentially contaminated clothing as well. A severe infestation will require the attention of a licensed exterminator; it can often take more than one visit from the exterminator to ensure that the bed bugs are really gone.
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How Do Bed Bugs Travel?
Bags & Personal Belongings
Bed bugs are transported by people, most often in personal belongings such as the following:
- Luggage & Suitcases
- Gym bags
- Items kept close to sleep areas
They can hide in your personal belongings, or even on you, and hitchhike a ride back to your home, condo, townhouse or apartment.
Many people ask if bed bugs can jump, but they can’t and dont travel that way.
Where do you pick them up?
It’s possible to pick up bed bugs almost any place – they’ve infested offices, stores, hotels, gyms and countless other places.
Prefer people over pets
The common bed bug prefers to feed on human hosts and does not prefer pets or other furry animals.
Bed bugs are easily transported into previously non-infested dwellings.
Once indoors, they can be extremely difficult to control without the help of an experienced pest specialist.
If you suspect you may have picked up some of these hitchhikers in your travels, call Orkin for a comprehensive bed bug inspection and assessment and implementation of a treatment solution.
Bed Bugs FAQs
What are bed bugs?
Bed bugs (Cimex lectularius) are small, flat, parasitic insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. Bed bugs are reddish-brown in color, wingless, range from 1mm to 7mm (roughly the size of Lincoln’s head on a penny), and can live several months without a blood meal.
Where are bed bugs found?
Bed bugs are found across the globe from North and South America, to Africa, Asia and Europe. Although the presence of bed bugs has traditionally been seen as a problem in developing countries, it has recently been spreading rapidly in parts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe. Bed bugs have been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found.
Bed bug infestations usually occur around or near the areas where people sleep. These areas include apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains, and dorm rooms. They hide during the day in places such as seams of mattresses, box springs, bed frames, headboards, dresser tables, inside cracks or crevices, behind wallpaper, or any other clutter or objects around a bed. Bed bugs have been shown to be able to travel over 100 feet in a night but tend to live within 8 feet of where people sleep.
Do bed bugs spread disease?
Bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bed bugs can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.
What health risks do bed bugs pose?
A bed bug bite affects each person differently. Bite responses can range from an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.
What are the signs and symptoms of a bed bug infestation?
One of the easiest ways to identify a bed bug infestation is by the tell-tale bite marks on the face, neck, arms, hands, or any other body parts while sleeping. However, these bite marks may take as long as 14 days to develop in some people so it is important to look for other clues when determining if bed bugs have infested an area. These signs include:
- the bed bugs’ exoskeletons after molting,
- bed bugs in the fold of mattresses and sheets,
- rusty–colored blood spots due to their blood-filled fecal material that they excrete on the mattress or nearby furniture, and
- a sweet musty odor.
How do I know if I’ve been bitten by a bed bug?
It is hard to tell if you’ve been bitten by a bed bug unless you find bed bugs or signs of infestation. When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea — a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating. The bite marks may be random or appear in a straight line. Other symptoms of bed bug bites include insomnia, anxiety, and skin problems that arise from profuse scratching of the bites.
Because bed bug bites affect everyone differently, some people may have no reaction and will not develop bite marks or any other visible signs of being bitten. Other people may be allergic to the bed bugs and can react adversely to the bites. These allergic symptoms can include enlarged bite marks, painful swellings at the bite site, and, on rare occasions, anaphylaxis.
How did I get bed bugs?
Bed bugs are experts at hiding. Their slim flat bodies allow them to fit into the smallest of spaces and stay there for long periods of time, even without a blood meal. Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. The bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide. Most people do not realize they are transporting stow-away bed bugs as they travel from location to location, infecting areas as they travel.
Who is at risk for getting bed bugs?
Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.
How are bed bugs treated and prevented?
Bed bug bites usually do not pose a serious medical threat. The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. If you suspect that you have an infestation, contact your landlord or professional pest control company that is experienced with treating bed bugs. The best way to prevent bed bugs is regular inspection for the signs of an infestation.
This information is not meant to be used for self-diagnosis or as a substitute for consultation with a health care provider. If you have any questions about the parasites described above or think that you may have a parasitic infection, consult a health care provider.
How to Deal with Bed Bugs when Travelling
Last updated: April 5, 2019 . Written by Laurence Norah
As a traveller, one thing that is certain is that you are going to be sleeping in many different places. With this comes risk, one of which is to wake up one morning covered in tracks of red bites – the possible mark of bed bug bites!
Of course, your initial thought may be that you’ve been the victim of a highly trained vicious mosquito squadron. But look a little closer – because you may have been the victim of something else entirely, something that is going to get fellow travellers all terribly excitable and probably freak you out too – the fearsomely savage and much feared bed bug.
In today’s post I’m going to share with you some knowledge on bed bugs that I picked up from my time spent working in hospitality, and particularly in a hostel in New Zealand, where a great deal of my time was taken up with activities relating to bed bugs and bed bug management. Which wasn’t on the initial job description.
As a result of that experience I have seen and squished far more bed bugs than any person ought to, and spent tremendous amounts of time peering into tiny cracks looking for the evidence of their presence.
Today I’m going to tell how to know if you’ve been nibbled on by bed bugs, how to look out for signs that you’re not sleeping alone, what to do if you’re bitten by bed bugs, how to get rid of bed bug bites, plus what you can do to deal with the bed bug issue. First though, let’s take a look at some facts about bed bugs.
Bed Bug Facts!
Bed bugs are actually pretty amazing little critters! Here are some quick facts for you:
- Bed bugs can survive for up to a year without food, particularly when it is cold. They can survive temperatures ranges down to around –32C and up to 45C. When it is cold, they go into a sort of hibernation, and pop out of it when it warms up.
- In the right conditions it takes one pregnant adult female six months to create an infestation of literally hundreds of thousands of bugs. She is bloody awesome at hiding in the meantime.
- When it gets warmer, bed bugs reproduce faster. This is why bed bug issues are often commonly associated with warmer countries. In higher temperatures, the reproductive cycle goes from 21 days down to as fast as 8 days.
- Bed bug sex is not a fun thing for the bed bug female. It involves carapace piercing in order to get the necessary fluids inside her. If I was a bed bug girl, I’d want to go bite someone, too.
- Bed bugs like other bed bugs. They secrete a pheromone that attracts more bed bugs. Sociable little chaps.
- Bed bugs are bigger than you might think, particularly in their adult stage, which they reach after five junior stages. And I thought one go at puberty was tough. They grow up to 0.5cm long, easily visible by the naked eye, in their adult stage at least.
- They are attracted to their victims by carbon dioxide and warmth, amongst other things.
- Bed bugs love travelling almost as much as you do. They or their eggs will happily hitch a ride in your clothes or on your backpack, and then hop off when they reach somewhere new and exciting with fresh fields of blood filled meat to suck on. This makes eradicating them a bit tricky in a well visited bed!
Which Countries Have Bed Bugs?
The reality is that pretty much every temperate to warm country will have bed bugs. So you’ll find bed bugs in Thailand, bed bugs in Australia, bed bugs in the USA – the list goes on. Basically every continent except Antarctica has bed bugs!
It’s also a worsening problem it seems as we are travelling more and more, and our climate seems to be providing warmer days. These two factors combine to produce the ideal conditions for bed bugs to spread, and for bed bugs to breed!
How to know if you’ve been bitten by bed bugs
People react to bed bug bites, like any other bites, in different ways. You may have been munched upon countless times, and have absolutely nothing to show for it, or you may come up in horrific pustules, blisters, or bumps that look just like mosquito bites. Diagnosis can be tricky! Additionally, for some reason, elderly people barely react at all.
The easiest way to tell though is the classic line pattern that the bed bug leaves behind. This will be a nice straight line of red bumps, that looks like something has methodically chewed you up. And that would be because somethinghasmethodically chewed you up!
Bed bug bite example
Often this will be a line of three bumps, sometimes more, depending on a variety of factors, including whether or not the bug was disturbed during the meal, or if the bug didn’t quite find what it was looking for on the first, second, third.. or.. well, you get the idea.
Bed bug bites can also take a while to appear after you’ve been bitten, sometimes up to a couple of weeks. Which makes working out what bit you and when fairly difficult. Very often, you will discount the bites as nothing more than mozzie bites, and move on with your life.
Bed bugs also tend to bite in areas that aren’t covered, however in tropical areas you’re not likely to be sleeping in much anyway. They also don’t usually target armpits or the back of your knees.
How to spot bed bugs in your hotel room or bed – the warning signs!
There is a bit of a misconception that for a place to have bed bugs, it needs to be dirty, or unkempt, or messy. This sadly isn’t the case – the hostel I worked in for example was absolutely fanatic about cleanliness and bed bug management, and we still had the odd bug.
Of course, if your chosen accommodation doesn’t care too much about basic things like cleanliness or tidiness, then you can be pretty damn sure that they aren’t that bothered about bed bugs either. So the two can be linked, even if one doesn’t cause the other.
So how to tell if you might not be sleeping alone? Here are some ways to spot bed bugs:
- Bed bugs are fairly shy and retiring creatures. They mostly come out at night. In the day time they like to hide, not too far away from their evening meal. Obvious places to look therefore include in your bed frame, and anywhere near the bed that harbours cracks that they can squeeze into. Curtain rails, skirting boards, door frames – even the heads of screws. You get the idea.
- Bed bugs secrete a black gooey substance. You might find this on the bed sheets after you have been bitten. You can also look for it on the bed frame. Lots of black goo around a hole or crack indicates the likely presence of our friends. If it is recent, you will be able to easily smear it with your fingers.
- Bed bugs have a distinctive aroma, which is how they attract other bed bugs. It’s a bit like the smell of a stink bug.
- Bed bugs have six different sizes, from the super tiny to the fairly large. So there are a variety of body shapes and sizes to look out for.
- Bed bugs are not excited by heat or excess amounts of carbon dioxide. If you think there are bed bugs in a hole, you could try breathing into it, or blowing a hair dryer into it on a low setting. This may force them out of hiding, or boil them in their shells. Whichever works for you. It may also distribute bed bug eggs all over the room.
- You may find blood stains on the bed after you’ve been bitten. However, you can get these with any bite, so it’s not a guarantee of bed bugs.
What to do if you think you’ve been bitten by bed bugs
If you think you have been bitten by bed bugs in a hotel or other accommodation, the first thing is not to panic. Whilst the bites can be itchy and annoying, bed bugs are not currently known to carry any actual diseases.
So in that sense, you are better off having been bitten by a bed bug than a mosquito.
Photo CDC/ Harvard University, Dr. Gary Alpert; Dr. Harold Harlan;
You should, of course, mention to your host that you think you have been bitten. There are two main reasons to do this:
- If the problem is with the place you are currently at, then they need to know so that they can do something about it
- If you were bitten somewhere else, there is a possibility that you have brought the eggs or bugs with you. They therefore need to keep an eye out for future problems. Be aware that they are unlikely to thank you for this.
When you inform your host, a variety of things will happen. It is very likely that, even if the accommodation believes itself to have bed bugs, it will deny this. Admitting to having bed bugs is akin to admitting you have the plague, due to the bad reputation these critters carry.
So unless you have the dead body to prove your case, don’t expect too much in the way of liability being admitted.
Additionally, as the bites can take so long to come up, the accommodation provider may actually have a point, in that you could have brought a problem into their previously clean environment. This is a great way to make you feel guilty and thus shut you up. After all, who is going to tell their friends that they may be a carrier of bed bugs?
What you should see, if they are at all bothered / professional / caring are some efforts by the accommodation provider to find any problems.
Where I worked, if someone seemed to have an issue, we would take their room apart, literally. Bed frames would be disassembled, and any bugs we found would be squished. We also used a heat gun to sterilise cracks in wood or metal. However, if we found bugs or eggs, this was never disclosed to guests.
How to Treat Bed Bug Bites
Treating bed bug bites is much the same as treating any other bites. The application of topical anti-histamine creams or ingestion of anti histamine is about the best you can do. A bite is a sign of an allergic reaction, and anti-histamine can help.
Try not to scratch the bites – your nails are dirty and this will lead to infection.
If you have reacted particularly badly, then get yourself down to the doctors where they may be able to help out with more powerful creams or pills.
Ultimately though, it’s going to be a waiting game where you’ll just have to wait for the bites to subside.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs
If you are travelling, as previously mentioned, it can be hard to prevent bed bugs as you are not in control of the situation.
However, you can stop yourself from taking bed bugs home, and take preventative measures in your home.
The first thing you’ll want to do when travelling is to get used to inspecting the accommodation you are staying in for bed bugs. If there are signs of bed bugs, you should ask for another room, or consider another property. If the room has bed bugs, it is very likely that some of these bugs might get into your luggage, and that you will take them home with you.
You also can take some preventative measures like spraying your luggage with one of the bed bug sprays mentioned further on in the post. You might also want to invest in a heating device which will heat your luggage up above a temperature which kills bed bugs, thus sanitizing your belongings.
For your home, we would suggest investing in mattress covers for your beds. This stops bed bugs getting into the mattress, which is one of the most common places for them to hide. It also means you don’t need to discard of your mattress if you do get bed bugs, which can be costly if you have a nice mattress. See here for another well reviewed mattress protector.
The main thing to consider is how bed bugs might get into your property. The most common ways are for you to bring them back from a trip in your luggage, or for guests to bring them when they visit. Mattress covers can help in guest rooms, and careful inspection of your guests room after they leave is also a wise idea.
Another common vector for bed bugs is through furniture. We would advise against buying second hand furniture for this reason, as it can be very hard to tell if it is home to bed bugs.
There are a range of other products to help you deal with bed bugs in the home. These include electronic ultrasonic repelling devices, bed bug traps for your bed legs, and diatomaceous earth, which is a non-toxic substance that kills insects.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
The bad news about bed bugs is that in a well visited environment like a hostel or hotel, it is pretty much impossible to eradicate bed bugs.
This is because even if you were able to find and kill every last egg, nymph and adult from the premises, all it takes is one new arrival with a pregnant adult female to turn up, and the problem starts all over again. In a warm climate where the bugs can breed quickly, the problem is only going to be worse.
In such an environment, the best that can be done is to try to manage and stay on top of the problem. Regular inspections of sleeping areas, blocking up inviting cracks and the occasional use of some sort of anti-bed bug chemicals are the best that can be done so that the issue stays small – akin to a few mosquitoes flying in through a window at night, rather than spiralling out of control into a serious infestation.
Speaking of chemicals, another problem arises. The most effective chemicals for properly killing off the whole bed bug lifecycle are also not exactly human friendly. Fumigating a room is actually therefore more hazardous to human health than a few bites is ever going to be – and in fact more people have probably died from reactions to the anti bed bug chemicals than from actual bed bug bites. However, there are some non-toxic options, one of which I have listed below.
Products to help you deal with Bed Bugs
There are some products you can get to help stop that most nightmare of all situations – taking the bed bugs from your travels to your home, as well as other sprays for killing bugs generally.
- EcoRaider is one of the better natural options for killing bed bugs. This is available from the manufacturer, and also on eBay here. In a study by the US Entomological Society of America, this was the only natural bed-bug killing product that effectively killed both bed bug nymphs and bed bug eggs
- The other recommended product from the above study is this Bed Bug Spray by Bed Bug Patrol, available on Amazon. This was also successful against bed bugs. It’s also highly rated by commentators, as well as being both organic and non-toxic.
- This is another well rated natural product available on Amazon
- Electronic repellers like this work by emitting ultrasonic sounds to deter a range of insects, including bed bugs
- There are a wealth of other options also available from both Amazon.com and UK.
- This Travel Sized Luggage Spray by Bed Bug Patrol on Amazon.com is designed to help protect you from bringing the bed bugs back from your travels – possibly the worst outcome of any bed bug encounter!
If you do have a problem in your home, it is likely that you will have to call in professionals to fully clean out your house. They will use all sorts of nasty chemicals, and you will probably have to move out for a while. That is the only way to really sort out the problem once and for all.
And that is that for bed bugs! If you’ve got any comments, questions or experiences to share from your travels, including horrific photos, don’t be afraid to share them below! Otherwise happy travels, and remember, sleep tight.. don’t let the bed bugs bite!
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About the authors
Laurence and Jessica Norah are the British-American travel blogging couple behind photography & adventure travel blog Finding the Universe and luxury / couples travel blog Independent Travel Cats.
We’ve been running this site since 2010. We’re full time professional travel bloggers, and we visit all the places we write about personally. All our content is based on our own first hand travel experiences, and we take all the photos you see on our sites. Read more about us here.
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There are 9 comments on this post
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Does regular bug spray kill them? I’ve gotten bit in Sarajevo and no clue where to find bed bug spray for my luggage.
As far as I know, no it doesn’t. They are tough critters to kill!
I have read all sorts of post about bedbugs and none of them say anything about bedbugs being in your vehicle so my question is if you Go to someone’s house for a couple hours that has bedbugs and then get in your vehicle are you and your vehicle contaminated
Laurence Norah says
It’s hard to answer this. Bedbugs are more likely to be transported on luggage rather than people, so if you don’t take anything into the house, it is unlikely they will jump on you and then into your car and then on into your house. And as there isn’t a source of food in the car, it’s not an attractive place to live for them either. So I would say that the chances are low, but not impossible of course.
Thank you for telling a blog about dealing with bed bug as traveler. It is very much a serious issue. The information provided is very relevant.
Laurence Norah says
Great tips on how to clean a room with suspected bugs – would love some recommendations for those who have been bitten in hotels and are now fearful of bringing them home! I am covered in bed bug bites after backpacking through South America and now am terrified I will introduce them to my own bed and have no idea what to do!
Laurence Norah says
So the only thing that really works is heat – bugs can’t handle temperatures higher than 117F – 122F. So your best option is to wash everything you can (clothes, bag etc..) at a high heat. If you have items you can’t heat to that temperature, the safest option is to throw them out 🙁
Everything You Need to Know About Bedbugs and Travel
Photodisc / Getty Images
Let’s get one thing straight: bedbugs are simply not the scourge most people think they are for budget travelers and backpackers. Bedbugs don’t transmit disease and hostels don’t harbor them any more than hotels do (and outbreaks in either place are very rare). You’re far more likely to get bedbugs in a hotel in New York City than you are on a backpacking trip to Southeast Asia.
Below we’ll lay some myths to rest while helping you learn how to identify bedbugs, showing you which signs you should look out for in your accommodation, cover how you can effectively treat bedbug bites, help you to avoid bedbugs as you travel, and share how to kill them if they decide to travel with you (they’re frustratingly tricky to get rid of).
Myth #1: Your Accommodation Will Have Bedbugs
Let’s start first by saying that hostels have no more bed bug incidents than do other accommodation options. Greg Baumann, vice president of technical services at National Pest Management Association says, "There are no data to support that hostels have a higher incidence of bedbugs (than hotels)." Nonetheless, some people will always fear hostels are bedbug hotbeds. If you’re one of those people, travel with a silk sleeping liner for peace of mind.
In the early 2000s, bedbugs became a hot travel topic when they started turning up in some luxury hotels. They had virtually disappeared from the U.S. lodging scene until a 1972 DDT insecticide ban; the spray once used on cockroaches and other pests turned out to have been an effective way to kill bedbugs, too. After DDT was banned, the number of bedbugs drastically increased. In Europe, the bugs never really left.
Canada’s Pest Control writes of bedbug hotel infestations: "The stigma attached to these parasites is influencing some hotels and other accommodations to ignore infestations or treat them without professional help. Lack of professional treatment comes with great risks, notably the possibility of litigation." Reading between the lines, we can deduce that there’s no way in Hades some hotels will agree that those red bumps on your body are bedbug evidence — and a U.S. desk clerk may not even know what bedbug bites really look like, anyway. The lesson here is to do your research beforehand.
Hostels, on the other hand, have long acknowledged the bugs’ presence in the lodging world, especially outside the United States, and many of them take steps accordingly. Some actively tell you what to look for, and some hostels don’t allow sleeping bags in hostel dorms, partly because yours can carry bedbugs (they like traveling as much as you do). Bedbugs also hitchhike on backpacks, which should tell you how easily they can be spread. If you manage to get bedbugs and don’t realize for a week, you could have transported them to three different hostels and into twenty backpackers’ bags, who have then each traveled to three other hostels.
Many people assume the bugs come with the territory of filthy hostels (another myth — that all hostels are filthy by nature). Bedbugs don’t care about a clean environment, though.
Where some truth may lie in the hostels-always-have-bedbugs myth is that the sheer density of people possible in one hostel dorm room can create a higher possibility of the bugs’ appearance than in a hotel room used by a couple of travelers at a time. If twelve backpackers are sleeping in one room, twelve chances are created for bugs to hop off one backpacker’s stuff and onto yours, or into the hostel dorm furniture.
Again, though, there is no evidence to support the idea that hostels are more prone to infestation than other lodgings; in fact, given the higher likelihood of infestation and bedbug transference in a hostel because of sheer traveler numbers, it’s remarkable that that likelihood does not translate into an actual higher infestation incidence in hostels than hotels.
Myth #2: Bedbugs Transmit Disease
Do bedbugs carry disease? Well, bedbugs do carry 24 known pathogens, but do bedbugs transmit disease? Nope, bedbug bites won’t make you sick (unless, of course, the bites get infected). And while bedbugs do feed on blood, they don’t spread AIDS or other blood-borne illnesses. In other words, if you’re bitten by bedbugs, the only things you need to worry about are not scratching the bites until they bleed and finding a way to control the itching.
Mosquitos, on the other hand, can carry plenty of nasty diseases, like malaria, dengue, and West Nile disease, which they transmit to you via a science fiction-like needle nose. If you’re going to worry about one type of critter while you’re traveling, make it mosquitoes.
That’s not to say bedbugs and bedbug bites aren’t a pain to deal with. They definitely are.
Myth #3: Bedbugs Mean a Place Is Unclean
Bedbugs are gross, no doubt about it. Thinking about creatures crawling around in your bed and drinking your blood is a real shudder inducer. That actually happens all the time, though — the creatures looking for your blood, that is (think mosquitoes). It might be the fact that bedbugs kindascuttlethat make them seem especially awful, and bedbugs are nocturnal — creatures that scuttle at night just seem particularly sneaky, despite having microscopic brains and no personality characteristics to speak of.
The presence of bedbugs in a hostel or hotel don’t mean the place is unsanitary, though. Cockroaches, ants, flies — yeah, they all love old food. Bedbugs likefreshfood. A dirty hostel does not attract bedbugs simply by virtue of its grime — that’s not how these travelers pick their new destinations.
The bedbugs hitchhike into hostels, hotels and, eventually, your own house, by way of your stuff — your clothes, your sleeping bag or your backpack. They grab a ride out the same way.
As Baumann says of unsanitary conditions, "Bedbugs don’t really care about that, and can be in the fanciest of hotels all the way to the other end of the spectrum." He goes on to say that while the whole bedbug infestation, cleanliness-impaired hotel equation is popular, there is no data to support it.
The single connection that could be possibly be made between the bugs and unsanitary habits would be that a bedbug killing recommendation is washing possessions in very hot water. Perhaps that’s how the myth started — but no one, anywhere, ever washes their curtains in boiling water every day in order to keep a clean house. (Do they?)
Now that we’ve covered the myths, let’s get stuck into what to look out for.
What Do Bedbug Bites Look Like?
A bedbug bite looks like a small welt, and it burns and/or itches like crazy.
You can’t feel a bedbug bite while it happens (they take about five minutes to feed), and the bugs are nocturnal. You’ll typically wake in the morning feeling strangely itchy and look down to discover you’re covered in red bites.
One distinguishing feature of bedbugs bites is that they often appear in a row of three. People will joke that when they bite you, they go for breakfast, lunch, and dinner while they’re there! Some bites might be spread out and others can be in clusters, so don’t assume it’s something else if your bites aren’t all in lines of three.
How to Treat a Bedbug Bite
You should wash a bedbug bite with soap and water, apply some ice, and use an antihistamine cream or no-itch cream. Check out Brave Soldier antiseptic cream: it’s the best no-itch, no infection, no-scar wound treatment around.
The most important thing here is not to scratch. These bites are itchy and the more you scratch them, the more likely it is that they’ll become an open wound and get infected.
If a bedbug bite gets infected while you’re traveling (gets very tender, feels hot, and starts oozing yellow, white or greenish goo), you should consider seeing a doctor. If you’re not able to see a doctor and are traveling with antibiotics, consider taking a course if you’re 100% convinced it’s an infection.
What Do Bedbugs Look Like?
Bedbugs are teeny flat critters; grown adults are about the size of an apple seed. Adults are brown until they consume some blood, after which they turn reddish brown. Ah, that rosy after-dinner glow.
Pinhead-sized nymphs, or non-adults, are smaller and are whitish or gold until they feed — just about the color of a mattress, making them very tough to see. (More evidence of clever, sneaky behavior.)
Where Bedbugs Like to Live?
Bedbugs like beds, of course, though "bedbug" is actually a misnomer, since they certainly live anywhere. However, they’re especially likely to like your bed — you, who are their meal ticket, are in bed all night, which is when they come out to eat.
According to the National Pest Management Organization, the bugs can also live in carpets, under wallpaper, behind baseboards, and in small cracks and crevices throughout a room. Baumann comments that the bugs can be found in all furniture, pointing out that someone carrying them in clothing can spend as much time on couches and chairs in the living room as in bed.
The bugs can travel alone, but seeing one is probably the tip of the iceberg. The nocturnal animals are transient and elusive. They can hide in the seams of mattresses or in the heads of screws, which makes them particularly tricky to track down.
They’re so frightening because they’re so hard to find.
How to Spot Bedbugs in Hostels, Hotels and at Home
The odor of a bedbug infestation, though distinct, is too subtle for amateur bug detectives. Bedbugs are said to smell like sweet, rotten raspberries, and it’s also said that an infested room smells like almonds. Most likely, you’ll need a big infestation before you can smell the bugs in a room’s air.
Bedbugs do leave tiny reddish or black streaks on sheets. If you see those upon checking into a hostel or hotel room, consider grabbing your stuff before crawling hitchhikers hop on it, and cruising straight back to the desk to ask for a new room. If need be, just go to a different hostel or hotel — cheaper than getting rid of the pesky travelers if they hitch a ride with you, and far better than being bitten all night. The staff should offer you a refund, of course.
These bugs are great world travelers. They like living in your sleeping bag, backpack, and clothes until they can get to your house and move into the recliner, where they can start raising a big family in a nice neighborhood. A female can lay up to 500 eggs over its lifetime. Take a look at the seams of your backpack or along the zipper to spot them in a likely destination. And if you suspect you might have an infestation, do not take your backpack into your home. You’ll likely have to spend thousands of dollars to get rid of them if that happens.
Let’s look at some of the bugs’ habits before learning about how to kill bedbugs.
How They Travel
The bedbugs hitch rides in baggage, sleep sacks, or sleeping bags. They jump from hotel to hostel to home on humans — someone brought ’em to your lodging, albeit accidentally. And they all want to be exchange bugs and travel to new homes internationally.
You’ll likely notice bites before, and if you see the biters themselves unless you see the telltale streaks on your sheets; the bugs are nocturnal and they hide out unless feeding.
And they’re tough customers. They can live more than a year without eating; taking a vacation in hopes the bugs will then move out won’t work. They can take the temperatures, too; the bugs are okay with boiling to Fahrenheit 113, and freezing will rarely kill them either.
How to Avoid and Kill Bedbugs While Traveling
If you’ve got bites, or you know you’ve spent time in a room harboring the bugs, vacuum your suitcases, backpack, camera bag — leave no seam unsucked. Wash everything you own in the hottest water possible to boil the little biters.
How to Kill Bedbugs at Home
The same rules on how to kill bedbugs while traveling apply at home: vacuum your living space relentlessly, including furniture, changing the bag outside (small bedbugs can wiggle through a stitch hole). Wash or dry clean everything moveable (clothes, bedspreads, throw rugs) in the hottest water. If one happy couple escapes, though, it’s all for nothing.
Baumann points out that people pay plenty trying various home remedies that don’t go so well, and recommends that you bite the bullet and foot the bill for an exterminator, to begin with. It’s easiest, fastest, and most likely cheapest in the long run.
How Exterminating Works
The exterminator will have instructions regarding jobs you should complete prior to his arrival. They’ll be things like don’t open travel bags on home furniture, like beds, and store them away from furniture (like in an outside shed), so any bugs who’ve hitchhiked may not get the chance to move in.