In many cases, bedbug problems start when they “hitch‐hike” in our luggage or other items during trips and stays at hotels and rental properties or if our jobs take us into potentially infested dwellings. Here are some tips on what you should do if you know or suspect that you picked up some bedbugs during a trip.
Know the Signs of Bedbugs
Bedbug bites are somewhat similar in appearance to mosquito bites, but many people do not react to the bites. For that reason, bites (or bite-like marks) or rashes are not reliable signs of a bedbug problem. Look for actual bedbugs and their fecal smears. Bedbugs are reddish‐brown, oval, flattened insects from 1⁄4 - 1⁄3 inch long and 1⁄16 - 1⁄8 inch wide before feeding (Figure 1). After a blood‐meal, they are swollen and dull red.
Bedbugs can be difficult to spot on furniture, luggage, backpacks, etc. particularly if the items are dark in color. They like to hide in crevices no thicker than a credit card. Their oval white eggs are only 1⁄25 inch and even more difficult to spot. Figure 2 shows a bedbug and dark‐colored fecal smears on the seams of a mattress. For more information about identifying bedbugs, see Bedbugs - Biology and Management.
What Can You Do to Reduce the Likelihood of Picking up "Hitchhiking" Bedbugs?
- Carry some plastic trash bags in your luggage. You can also enclose your clothing and other items in trash bags inside your luggage.
- Don’t place luggage on beds or on the floor near beds. Some hotels have fold‐out luggage stands. These stands are not “bedbug proof” but you can check them for signs of bedbugs particularly where the webbing wraps around the frame. You can store luggage in a trash bag (preferably a white or light-colored trash bag so you can spot any hitch-hikers on the bag). Another option is to keep your luggage in bathtub.
- For work-related home visits, minimize what you bring into the home. Place items on a hard surface, such as a table, rather than on a couch, chair or the floor next to furniture.
- Avoid spraying pesticides in your hotel / vacation room. Remember, you are not the only guest who has used (or will use) the room and many people are sensitive to pesticides. The management of your guest accommodation likely has a pest control program in place and any spraying you may do can be both hazardous and actually disruptive to their pest control efforts.
- If your job takes you into potentially-infested homes, be careful about spraying repellents on your clothing. Know your client. Although you may not be sensitive to pesticides, the residents of homes that you visit may have a reaction to the chemical including an asthmatic event.
- If you're staying at a hotel or vacation rental property, pull back the covers and sheets inspect their mattress & box spring for signs of activity. You can do the same thing at home periodically to make sure you haven't missed something. Remember that spotting on a mattress or box spring does not necessarily mean that it’s bedbug feces OR that there is a current bedbug problem. Many places are now using mattress encasements. Do not open the encasement because it may be difficult to reseal and so compromise its effectiveness.
What Should You Do If You Find Bedbugs Where You Are Staying?
- Notify the owner/manager so they can address the problem as quickly as possible. Do not spray any occupied rooms with pesticides.
- Place your clothing and other items (such as towels, bed linen, etc., if you brought such items with you) back into your luggage or into trash bags. If possible, place your luggage into trash bags (preferably double‐bagged) and seal the bags with tape or tie them in knots. This will allow you to transport the luggage back home in your car. Do not spray your clothing or luggage with pesticides.
- Carefully inspect the clothing you are wearing to make sure that bedbugs did not crawl onto you while you were handling items that you suspect may be infested. You should not apply insecticides to the clothing you are wearing or to your skin or hair. Unlike head lice, bedbugs do not remain feeding on their hosts and so it is unlikely that they are infesting your hair. If you are concerned about it, simply comb / brush your hair thoroughly.
- Upon arriving home, avoid opening and unpacking your bags and luggage except where you can contain the contents. For example, open them outdoors, in a garage, or in a bathtub where you can more easily spot any bedbugs.
- Place washable clothing into trash bags and then empty the bag into a washing machine. If you have to take your laundry to a laundromat, reseal the bags before carrying them or placing them back into a vehicle.
- Wash clothing and other items in warm‐hot soapy water as appropriate for the particular item. Then, place items into the dryer for at least 30 minutes (or longer if needed to dry the clothing). Garments that cannot be washed / dried may need to be dry cleaned. Steaming is an option, but this requires the use of a commercial‐type (or hand‐held) steamer unit.
- NOTE: Keep unwashed clothing in sealed trash bags until you’re ready to launder them. Do not leave piles of unwashed clothing on the floor or on a nearby countertop near clean laundry. It is possible for bedbugs to crawl out and infest these clean items
- If you prefer to discard clothing or other items, make sure they are placed into trash bags before you carry them out of your home or else you may spread them indoors. Also, discard them in a closed trash can, dumpster, or at the landfill. Never leave items next to a trash can or dumpster where someone else might pick them up.
- Backpacks, duffel bags, and similar items can often be placed into a clothes dryer for 30 minutes without damaging them. In the case of larger luggage or items that can’t be dried in a clothes dryer, you can use a portable steamer unit or you can treat them lightly with an insecticide. Use a spray containing “pyrethrins” or another product that is labeled for treating fabric. Seal the luggage in trash bags and leave them in there for several weeks. You can also use “pest strips” containing “Vapona” or DDVP in place of sprays; however, do not store items containing DDVP strips in rooms that are regularly occupied (i.e., bedrooms, living‐rooms, etc.) or used by children or the elderly. Clean all treated surfaces of luggage with soapy water before you re‐use it.
- Placing items in sealed bags in your car (or on your driveway) on a hot day may kill bedbugs, but that really depends on whether the temperature throughout the car exceeds about 120°F. Bear in mind that clothing and other items bunched inside trash bags inside your car may actually insulate bedbugs and their eggs. So, just because the thermometer may show the temperature as close to 120°F does not necessarily mean that your belongings heated thoroughly. If you try this method, you may want to keep these items separated from uninfested goods until you are certain no bedbug eggs hatched (usually within two weeks).
- It is not necessary to treat your house for bedbugs if you follow these procedures. "Preventive" bedbug treatments are not really effective. A proper treatment requires that you identify areas that should be treated and to minimize your exposure to chemicals. Treating for bedbugs is not a “do‐it‐yourself” job and setting off foggers (“bug bombs”) in your house will not help and can be potentially hazardous. Leave bedbug treatments to trained professionals.
Publication date: Aug. 1, 2009
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