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February 26, 2012 at 8:46 PMComments: 5 Faves: 0

Bedbugs - Q&A With Dr. Jeff VanWingen

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

I love to travel. 

At times I have fancied myself as a vagabond traveler, with such accommodations as a dock on a Greek isle, a park bench in France, a cardboard box in Spain, train stations, airports and other "testy" locales.  I have also stayed in some pretty luxurious digs. 

Along the way I have learned some things. Certain precautions lend themselves to the situation. 

For instance, when I am in a third world country, I drink strictly bottled water and only eat restaurant food that is steaming hot. However, there is one thing I worry about whether I am in a zero star motel in New Delhi or a four star hotel in New York - bedbugs!  Though I have never lived through an infestation, these little guys scare me to death, and for good reason!

This blog will cover bedbugs-- where they are, how they infest and what we can do to arm ourselves against them when we travel.

Bedbugs - The Basics

“Attack of The Bedbugs” would make a great B horror movie. 

These little monsters hide out until it is dark and their victim is asleep.  They track their prey by sensing body heat and the carbon dioxide that we breathe out.  Once in the proximity of their unsuspecting host, they move in for the blood feast.  Bedbugs pierce the skin with a straw-dagger-like projection from the mouth called the stylet fascicle.  They remain at the skin unnoticed until engorged on blood and then quickly move on back into hiding.  This feeding process takes about 5-10 minutes.

What do bedbug bites look like?

The marks left by bedbugs look much like any other insect bite - they are raised, red and may itch.  Bedbug bites have a predilection for the face, neck and arms (exposed areas when sleeping).

What do bedbugs look like?

These clever and insidious creatures look much like an apple seed in size and shape.  They are reddish-brown in color. 

How long do bedbugs live?

The life cycle of bedbugs varies, but in general they live for several months.  

Bedbug Myth and Fact

Myth: Bedbugs spread disease and make you sick.

Fact: Though bedbugs have been known to rarely harbor MRSA, there are really few health consequences of the bites.  The real problem is their resilience and stealth, leading to difficult eradication (and knowing that you are providing a blood feast to your hosts each night).

Myth: You can kill bedbugs by turning off the heat.

Fact: Short answer – no. They can survive even in harsh conditions.  At colder temperatures, bedbugs live longer due to hibernation!  They can survive dessication, or drying quite readily.  They are most susceptible to heat, dying quickly over temperatures of 113 degrees F.

Myth: Bedbugs only live in really dirty homes and hotels.

Fact: Bedbugs are not choosy about their environment.  Hygiene bears no importance-- they thrive in a dirty, roach-infested hotel or the penthouse of a five star.  They prefer to be close to their victims and frequent the creases in mattresses and box springs. They can really live anywhere in the bedroom, however, such as behind picture frames, in light fixtures and outlets.  In this way, they can hitchhike a ride from hotel to your home. Bedbugs readily climb onto clothing and into suitcases and easily make the journey back home to set up shop

Bedbug History

Have there always been bedbugs?

Documented history of bedbugs goes back centuries.  The earliest recorded mention was by Aristotle in ancient Greece!  They were extensively mentioned by writings of the American colonists.  In the 1950's, bedbugs were for the most part eradicated from developed countries due to the heavy use of a pesticide called DDT.  However, due to its harmful effects, DDT was banned in the U.S. in 1973 by the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Why are bedbugs becoming such a problem again?

In the last few years, cases of bedbugs have returned with a vengeance.  This is due to a few factors.  Besides the cessation of DDT use, resistance to common pesticides has developed due to overuse on more common insects like cockroaches and ants.  Further contributing to the resurgence is an increase in international travel over recent years. In a recent survey, 95% of professional exterminators have reported dealing with at least one case of bedbugs within the past year.

Bedbug Infestation - Treatment and Prevention

Can you get rid of bedbugs?

You can, but once infested, bedbugs are very difficult to evict.  As mentioned earlier, they are experts in surviving harsh environments. Further, they are resistant to the common, approved pesticides.  And to cap it off, they are experts at hiding. I strongly recommend the help of professional exterminator services if infested in the home. 

How can you tell if a hotel has bedbugs?

Like with many issues, our best option is prevention.  Some hotels are now using trained bedbug dogs to detect infestation.  For you personally, knowledge is key.  Know that bedbug acquisition can occur in any hotel.  Look for small rust colored dots along the seams of mattresses and box springs (from their feces). 

I think my hotel has bedbugs! How can I make sure I don’t bring bedbugs home with me?

If you awaken with telltale bites, do not bring your luggage back into your home without having it thoroughly inspected.  If the weather is warm, consider preventatively putting your luggage in a trash bag and locking it in your car for a couple good hot days to eradicate any hitchhikers. 

In summary…

In summary, bedbugs are increasing in prevalence.  They are sneaky and hard to get rid of once acquired.  Hotels of all levels of hygiene are fair game for bedbugs.  For the most part, the bites themselves are self-limited and harmless.  The best armor against bedbugs is knowledge and hopefully this blog has served to provide in this regard. 

Photo Credit:

Armed Forces Pest Management Board

Joel Mark Witt

Patrick Hoesly

Shawn Hoke

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5 Comments

  • hmm...now I'm only slightly paranoid *eye twitch*

  • I wish bedbugs wouldn't morph and adapt to become resistance to DDT....it's be so much easier...but then that would go against what life does. Life morphs and adapts to their surroundings to survive...it's just innately in every living thing...but it would still be nice if some parts of life (like these bedbugs) would just not have those instincts...guess you can't pick and choose. ;)

  • @Dayton... right on. My eye started twitching the minute I saw the title!

  • I'm itching just reading about this.

  • Did anyone see "Infested - Bed Bugs" (a TV show)? A family’s son came home from college. He brought home the coach from his Fraternity and that is where the little creepy bugs were hiding, it took months and $70,000 to get rid of these terrible terrible critters. There was another segment on Bed Bugs where a kid’s summer camp became infested! Kids were being sent home with bites all over them and they couldn’t figure out what was causing it until they hired a dog to “sniff” out the bed bugs….it cost them $120,000 to get rid of them!

    I am always so paranoid when I stay at hotels I always triple check for them…..it just creeps me out just thinking about it!!! When our children go to summer camp, we take all there stuff straight to a laundry mat and do the laundry there and check all their luggage and stuff! UGH!

    It is a very costly problem. :(

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