It is the time of the year that many of us shake the snow off and head for warmer climes. A tall drink on a warm beach may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to getting an influx of vitamin D and some much needed sunshine. However, make sure that you don’t head back home with any unwanted pests.
Bed bugs have invaded the swankiest of establishments and we have to be on our guard. Not only can the hotel cost you to stay, but it can also cost you in medicine and irritation after you get home. Bed bugs live in cracks and crevices and have been surviving on human blood as long as they have existed. A few decades ago, bed bug infestations were rare in most of the developed world. But since 2000, there has been a marked increase in the number of infestations, giving rise to the theory that bed bugs have developed a resistance to insecticide.
Bed bugs are small, about the size of an apple seed. They are flat, round and reddish-brown but get plump when they have eaten. They are nocturnal feeders. The bites are hard to distinguish from any other type of insect bite. Sometimes couples report that one person was bitten while the other wasn’t, but it is more likely both were bitten, and only one reacted to the bite. Thirty percent of people don’t react to a bite at all, according to research from the University of Kentucky.
The best way to steer clear of bed bugs in a hotel is to carefully inspect for their presence before you bring your suitcase into the sleeping part of the room. Bring a small flashlight and pull back the covers of the bed, particularly at the head of the bed. These critters are very small, usually less than a quarter of an inch long. When they have a blood meal, they defecate, which is usually the easiest way to find them. Inspect the seams of the mattress and any crevices between the mattress and the box springs for the bugs or their excrement.
If you find any evidence of bed bugs, ask the manager for a new room. It’s always a good idea to use the suitcase stand to keep your case off the floor. This will help prevent any unwanted hitchhikers from returning home with you. There are bed bug registries listed on the web, but take them with a grain of salt. These sites display reports by travelers with no confirmation of actual infestations.
This also brings up the question of whether it is a good idea to buy secondhand soft furniture. Just like in a hotel, inspect any items you are planning on buying. Beds are the most common place to find bed bugs, but they can also infest sofas and chairs. Check the seams for bugs or the telltale brown spots from their meals. If there is any sign of an infestation, don’t bring the item into your home. It is much easier to prevent an infestation than to eliminate the pests once they have invaded your home.
If you are unlucky enough to have an infestation, all is not lost. Don’t grab the pesticide and proceed to drown the little critters. Bug bombs and sprays are not as effective as other procedures. The easiest way to control the infestation is to encase the mattress in a plastic bag, available for $30 online or at our local stores. It won’t kill the bugs inside, but it will keep them from spreading to more locations in your house. A good vacuuming can get rid of any that happened to fall off the mattress.
The two most effective treatments are heat and cold. Heating the item to 120 degrees for 90 minutes will kill the bugs. Heating times must be longer because it takes a long time for soft goods to reach these temperatures. Freezing is another option. Subjecting the item to zero or lower for four days will do the job. For further information on bed bugs, check out the Extension publication at this link, http://bit.ly/2jmYITy.
Bed bugs can cause havoc with your vacation or your home. Make sure you don’t give them a chance.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of the Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (907)474-7201.