Lately, we have been hearing a lot about these nasty little bloodsuckers, Cimex lectularius, the common bed bug, and it's tropical cousin, Cimex hemipterus. These flattened, oval-shaped, reddish-brown mini vampires have been making the news more frequently in the last few years and have become public enemy number one in the eyes of public health officials recently.
Prolific little suckers, a female bedbug can lay as many as 12 eggs a day, which hatch between 6 and 17 days later. The nymphs will be equipped to feed immediately and will mature in anywhere between 21 and 120 days , depending on temperature. Bedbugs can live up to 1.5 years ! They are nocturnal, so you won't see them during the day.
Contrary to popular belief, bedbug infestations are not caused by unsanitary conditions. Bedbugs are spread physically, meaning they crawl into some luggage or a mattress or clothing and hitch a ride to their next home, where they proceed to multiply if conditions are good. If they can't find a blood meal, they can survive up to a year without feeding.
Once infested, a home or hotel room is very difficult to rid of these pests. They can hide almost anywhere, mattresses, cracks in walls, behind baseboards, under loose wallpaper, behind paintings, drapery,or in furniture. The most common pesticides used to kill bedbugs are becoming ineffectual and the other pesticides we used to use, like DDT, are outlawed.
Freezing is commonly mentioned, as in, " put your pillow in the freezer " but this will not kill all the eggs and you only need one to survive to re-infest. Heat is the best way to obliterate these buggers, whether it's a hot water wash and a hot air dry for clothing, or steam cleaning for furniture. The only problem with steam is, it doesn't penetrate far enough when it comes to mattresses and upholstered furniture. Most good pest control companies will use a multi-pronged approach to exterminate bedbugs. This can include pesticides, steam, vacuuming, and sealing entry points.
My kill technique of choice is diatomaceous earth. This is a white powder made of the exoskeletons of diatoms, tiny sea creatures. When a bedbug crawls through this powder, the microscopic, sharp particles, which the powder is made up of, will scratch the waxy coating of the exoskeleton of the bedbug, off, causing it to dehydrate and die. Only " food grade " diatomaceous earth can be used, otherwise your just endangering yourself, family and pets.
" So, what about traveling " you say. Bedbugs present unique problems for the average traveler. First , you have to determine if your hotel room has bedbugs. Obviously you aren't going to ransack the room checking every little nook and cranny, but there are simple methods to protect yourself. Pull back a corner of the bedding, nearest the headboard, right down to the mattress. Check for rust colored spots or actual bedbugs on the mattress and in the creases and seams at the edge of the mattress. Lift the mattress up a bit and check under it. If there is a headboard, check behind it and under it near the floor or carpet. Now check the baseboards near the bed, if there are tiny spaces between the baseboard and wall, check those too. The more areas around the bed that you inspect, the more certain you will be that your room is bedbug free.
Just because you inspect, doesn't mean there are no bedbugs, it just means you haven't found them or the room is not infested. Even after I make my decision to stay in a specific room, I still take other precautions. Here are my top 5 tips:
1) ALWAYS inspect the bed, mattress and headboard.
2) Pack a travel sheet like an Allersac, if you are unsure about the cleanliness of your room or you can't change rooms or for whatever reason, a travel sheet will help to protect and give some peace of mind. You may not need it but if you do.....
3) NEVER put your luggage on any soft surface like the bed, luggage racks or the desk are the best places to put luggage. Bedbugs are great travelers, they will get into your stuff and hitch a ride to your home.
4) Don't just throw your clothing anywhere, especially dirty clothes. People tend to just leave worn clothes on a chair or corner of the room until they re-pack or clean up. Bring or use the dirty laundry bags sometimes supplied in rooms and put your used clothing in one.
5) When you get back home, don't just leave your luggage and clothing anywhere. Immediately inspect and wash ALL your clothes and inspect your luggage. If you can ,if it's cold outside, leave your luggage outside for a night or in the garage, this can help get rid of any unwanted live guests.