‘Sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.’ It’s a mid-20th century saying that some of us still remember hearing as kids. The use of the dangerous chemical DDT all but eradicated that saying from common use, because it seemed that bed bugs were no more. Alas, they are back, and are now considered the ‘fastest growing pest control emergency in the developed world.’ Sorry, Zika.
According to a trending video on YouTube by SciShow, one in five Americans either had bed bugs or knows someone who has. As many of us head out for the holiday season, it has become a concern that with travel comes the real risk of encountering these bugs or even acquiring unseen insect stowaways that wish to go home for the holidays right along with you! They are commonly found in hotels/motels. They’ve been found riding public transportation, in hospitals, and in unlikely places like dance clubs, a 911 call center, and even a tow boat on the Ohio river.
They live in all 50 U.S. states – a really American bug, though they have exploded in growth in cities across Canada, Australia, Europe, and Africa too.
According to PestWorld.org,
‘Bed bugs do not discriminate in regard to household income and are found in both sanitary and unsanitary conditions.’
It seems that these are bugs that show no discrimination whatsoever, whether you’re a Trump or Hillary supporter, a Bernie Bro, or you voted for Jill Stein. They can be found in 4-star resorts or budget hole-in-the-walls.
To prepare you for what to expect, here is a breakdown of some facts:
From the SciShow YouTube video (posted below):
- Bed Bugs don’t live only in beds. They can be just about anywhere. (They don’t just feed on humans, but also other animals too.)
- Bed Bugs have preyed on humans for over 3,500 years. (Think Ancient Rome and Egypt.)
- Bed Bugs die if exposed to temperatures over 115° Fahrenheit in about ten minutes. (That’s why steam treatments work.) Scientific American points to 122° as the actual temperature.
- Bed Bugs can hibernate for a year with no food. (called ‘diapause’)
- DDT almost wiped them out in the 50s, but now they are back-with a vengeance! (DDT was also linked to cancer and other health risks in humans and was banned in the 70s. It also almost wiped out the Bald Eagle.)
- Bed Bugs today have evolved resistance to DDT now so it wouldn’t work anyway. Let’s not bring it back!
- Bed Bugs don’t spread disease like mosquitos, though they may transmit germs.
- Half of people may not even know they have been bitten, even if they are regularly visited by bed bugs.
See the video below:
So what can you do while you travel to prevent yourself from being bitten or from harboring hidden tiny passengers?
Some tips from Health.com and Scientific American for hotel visits:
- Put your travel bags in the bathroom until you’ve inspected your room. The bugs can’t find hiding places as easily in a tiled bathroom, and their food source is going to be nearer to a bed. You could even put the bags in the tub to be safe.
- Check the bedding under the mattress and behind the headboard using a flashlight for small black fecal spot dots that look like pepper or apple seed-sized bugs. You should also look for signs the room was treated with pesticides such as white powder.
Bed bugs have been said to have an odor like coriander or like the smell of stink bugs.
- Check around the room, including the closet. If you find anything contact the front desk right away and request a change of room to at least two floors away to minimize risk.
- Don’t leave your belongings out on spare beds or laying around. Put your bags on top of furniture or luggage racks off the floor.
- Wrap your suitcases in garment bags. Garbage bags work but you can also buy garment bags just for this purpose now online. You can also buy spray products that are said to help control bedbugs for home use, though they may not be totally effective.
- When you return home, wash your clothes in hot water or send them to a dry cleaner, including what you are wearing the day of your return. Vacuum out your bags and keep luggage bags on until you need it again.
- If you follow these measures and you still encounter bed bugs, you’ll need a professional exterminator to get rid of the problem. A potentially expensive proposition, but unfortunately necessary. DIY approaches will likely prove unsuccessful.
There is no prayer that is going to ward against bed bugs. Fortunately, scientists are working hard to come up with a solution for the growing problem. Until they have a fool-proof solution, take a little precaution and stay vigilant, but don’t let the idea of bed bugs give you too much anxiety. That would likely be worse than the actual threat the bugs themselves truly pose.
Sleep tight and have a happy hopefully bug-free holidays.
Featured image: bed bug-sniffing dog and bed bug from Wikimedia Commons