Travel Tips

Bed bugs: what you need to know

Nobody likes to talk about it but bed bugs are everywhere.

Bed bugs were pretty much eradicated in the 20th century, but this was, it turns out, because we used asbestos for a number of applications. It would appear that inhaling asbestos fibres is as bad for them as it is for us and thanks to this they, and many household insects were all but eradicated. Now that we don’t use asbestos anymore, the little critters have returned, particularly in hotels that have sought to remove harmful asbestos from their structures.

Do bed bugs carry diseases?

‘Not really’ is the best answer we’ve been able to get for this. On the one hand, the consensus is that they don’t carry any diseases that are harmful to humans but on the other, they do feed on humans and there is always a chance they could pass something on. This doesn’t even take into account those unfortunate people who are allergic to bed bugs and can suffer anything from a rash to straight up toxic shock after being in contact with them.

Like all things. Check under the covers.

So what can be done?

Well, I used to work with a colleague who had worked for the biggest pest control company in the UK and they explained that it’s often down to the guest of a hotel to check for bed bugs. The hotels might check, but the chances are they won’t. Cleaning staff have to clean rooms at a pace, having only a couple of hours (if that) to get from one room to another as guests depart and arrive. They do the mandatory cleaning and sprucing and that’s it. Also, if they did check and happened to find a bed bug, even one, then the cleaning process gets a bit…well…itchy.

Firstly, the room would need to be kept open and guests should be encouraged to enter. The reason for this is that bed bugs hide, very well, so you have to bait them to come out. To do this you need a source of heat and CO2, which attracts these parasites. The easiest way to bait and kill them is to open a room (or a floor) to guests and check the bed frames for bloodstains. It might sound gruesome, but these marks come from bed bugs that have had a ‘blood meal’, and climbed down, through the mattress, before being squished by the moving body of a guest in the bed.

Once an infestation has been confirmed, closing down the room and fumigating everything is essential. The bed certainly, but carpets, sofas, even the skirting boards too. If a hotel room has bed bugs they may have some other horrible infestations of nasty parasites including ticks, which are known to carry all sorts of horrible diseases, such as Lyme.

Fumigating a room requires it to be closed for a minimum of 48 hours and the adjacent rooms need to be checked too. Because of this, hotels are more likely to avoid the issue, where possible, and take comfort in the non-committal assumption that bed bugs can’t do too much harm.

The checks

After one conversation with my old colleague that left me feeling very itchy and in need of a hot shower, I wrote down a list of things to do before even sitting on a bed in a rented room. I now follow this list, irrespective of what hotel or Airbnb I’m staying in.

  1. Take the mattress off the bed. Check the underside of the mattress for any blood splatters, these will be quite obvious, as they’ll look a little bit like dark freckles.
  2. Check the bedclothes for the same.
  3. Check the corners of the bedframe, both on top and underneath for eggs. These you won’t miss! Bed bug eggs look like rice grains and will be clustered together near the edges, on top and under the edge of the bed where they be warm, able to breathe and close enough to a potential meal when they hatch.
  4. If anything is suspect, take a picture.
  5. If you find anything at all, take a picture and contact the management for a change of room and ask them to conduct the same test.

Hotels may not be doing the checks themselves but they won’t risk a mention of bed bugs on Tripadvisor or, which is why the best piece of advice is to take a picture of anything you see.

It’s entirely up to you. Some people don’t care about this issue and a few have ridiculed me for doing my checks, which is fair because the checks usually come back negative and most hotels are fine. But I’ll keep doing the checks because when asked if bed bugs carry disease I was told, “not really.”

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