HOW TO AVOID AND DEAL WITH BED BUGS ON THE ROAD
Bed bugs are tiny insects varying in size between 1,5 and 10 millimetres, depending on their development stage and whether or not they recently ate. They have a flat, brown body that can take a reddish tint when they’re full. Bed bugs feed on human and animal blood, usually during the night while their victims are sleeping. Their bites are painless because their saliva contains an analgesic substance. Bites can take between several hours and several days to develop a reaction that can be seen or felt, then becoming red, slightly swollen and sometimes itchy (similar to a mosquito or spider bite). What is specific to bed bug bites though is the presence of multiple bites in one spot; that is because they reproduce quickly and like to hang out in groups, therefore it’s common to have many bites side by side, sometimes all lined up. Bed bugs are extremely resistant and can thrive both in warm and cold climate, dry and humid alike. Gifted with an astonishing resilience, they can slowly decrease their body temperature way below freezing point to hibernate and can survive up to 18 months without food, making eradication a serious affair because storing potentially contaminated items will not suffice to eliminate the risk of propagation. Although lower grade lodging services might feel less concerned about hygiene, know that bed bugs can be found in any type of accommodation, even in transportation and shops, it is then of the utmost importance to learn how to detect them in order to give your room a good checkup upon arrival, no matter where you’ll stay.
Detecting the Presence of Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are mostly active in the dark, so it’s best to check the room right after turning the lights on or with a flashlight. Lift blankets and fitted sheets to inspect the mattress. Do not omit the tag and folds in the fabric; bed bugs love to hide! You can often find them in a group consisting of a female and its youngsters, creating small brown clusters. After their meal, bed bugs defecate a black substance looking like little ink spots. These spots are an excellent way to detect the presence of bed bugs! They are insidious little creatures that often find shelter in a hidden safe space during the day, making it important to inspect all the surfaces surrounding the bed, including the bedside table, box spring and even electrical outlets. Don’t forget to look at the pillows and cushions! Also look at the luggage rack, closet and drawers as they could have been carried by a traveller, unaware of its free riders. When bed bugs are present in a large amount, it is possible to find a nest in a 5-meter perimeter surrounding the bed. It is good practice to be a little zealous when inspecting a room, because neglecting to find the heart of a colony will probably mean that you’ll carry the problem with you. Bed bug eggs are practically impossible to see so you’ll have to be extra careful throughout your trip and upon return.
Avoid Becoming a Carrier
During Your Trip
Light colour plastic suitcases offer the best protection against bed bugs because they make it easier to spot them and they limit the risk of spreading/catching them in transportation where everybody's luggage is together. They are also easier to treat if needed.
If possible, favour heat-resistant fabrics over delicate ones because, if infected, you’ll have to treat them with hot water or steam.
Place your belongings in sealed plastic bags to significantly lower your risks.
Upon arrival at your accommodation, thoroughly inspect your room before settling.
Don’t drop your bag and belongings on the bed and avoid storing your shoes or other items under the bed. Ideally, place your stuff on a tile-like surface and inspect the luggage rack before putting your bag on it.
If you find bed bugs in your room, immediately inform the staff and ask to be relocated in a room as far as possible from the infected one.
Avoid using your own pillow and sleeping bag when renting a room to avoid spreading the problem.
In an effort to eradicate parasites, some lodging owner will use highly toxic products. When inspecting a room, you can leave the door or window open to air out and evacuate fume residues from a newly treated bed or room.
Drop your luggage and belongings far from the bed (ideally in the bathtub as bed bugs have a hard time climbing up the smooth walls).
Remove and inspect all items one at the time.
It’s a good practice to put all your clothes, even the clean ones, directly in the washing machine and run a precautionary hot water cycle.
For optimal safety, vacuum your bag or suitcase (don’t forget the straps, zips and pockets) or treat it with steam. Don’t risk it; throw away the vacuum bag afterward.
Getting Rid of the Undesirables
First of all, as soon as you discover bed bugs, you have to isolate all contaminated items in sealed plastic bags. Then, inspect all the rooms to determine the extent of the issue. If you already spent several days at the same space since returning, you’ll probably have to call a professional exterminator. In the meantime, you can start taking care of the infected items (and surrounding ones, for extra safety) and place them in new sealed plastic bags. Reusing the same bags would cancel the treatment. Place the treated bags in a non-contaminated room until the visit of the exterminator. Note that the professional treatment of your place will require that you leave for a period of time varying between 6 and 24 hours, which is also valid for your pets (their toys, cushions and blankets will have to be treated too). Here are the 4 possible treatments:
The most reliable way to get rid of bed bugs! Place all the infected clothes and fabric items in the dryer and run it on high heat for at least 30 minutes. Avoid overloading to ensure that all items will be exposed to the heat.
Washine machine treatment
This treatment won’t work with front load or high-efficiency washers, because clothes need to be fully submerged for the whole duration of the cycle. The water must be at a minimum of 60°C to successfully kill the bed bugs and eggs. Run a long cycle, at the highest temperature available, and make sure the water covers the whole load.
Vapor steam treatment
With a vapour steam cleaner, treat fabrics and objects one at the time, moving the steam very slowly throughout the entire surface, between folds, behind buttons and inside pockets. The steam must be at a minimum of 100°C for the treatment to work.
The only solution for heat-sensitive fabrics and objects you don’t want to get rid of. Place all contaminated items in the freezer or outside (do not toss them in a pile because all items must be directly exposed to the cold) and leave for a minimum of 4 days. The temperature must be consistently below -18°C for the treatment to work. It is essential to expose the items once the temperature already reached -18°C because a slow decrease would allow bed bugs to adapt and fall into hibernation mode, therefore not killing them. Note that not all house freezers have the capacity to reach a temperature cold enough to eradicate bed bugs, so you must figure out if yours can ahead and run a test before placing the items in it. Commercial freezers and chest freezers are the most practical for this treatment.