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Bed Bugs

Travel Guide Travel Health Bed Bugs

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Introduction

Common Bedbug

Common Bedbug

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Thought by many travellers to only be an issue in dirty hotels in third world countries, most everywhere has bed bugs, and they have been making a comeback in recent years, even infesting high end hotels. National Geographic has an article on it here: Blood thirsty bedbugs make a comeback. Unfortunately, bedbugs aren't attracted by dirty conditions, just the carbon dioxide you emit when sleeping, so you can't even look at a hotel and know it's clean just because it's fancy.[1]

  • Photo courtesy of the New York City Council Resources Center website.

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Biology and Life Cycle

As stated above, bedbugs are definitely making a come back and have been in a cycle of mutation/evolution over the past few years. There are two species of the insect, Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus, which place humans on the 'all you can eat' buffet menu. Humans may also become host to bed bug species that would normally only affect bat and birds. These infestations are known as incidental and very rare.

Bedbug Life Cycle

Bedbug Life Cycle

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The adult female lays approximately 3-10 eggs daily (in cracks, crevices, mattress seams, etc.). When the eggs hatch in approximately 4-12 days, the nymphs will molt 5 times before reaching adulthood. Prior to each molt, the nymphs must feed on a host. Bed bug nymphs can survive quite some time without a meal - they just won't progress to the next stage of their life cycle as quickly. Both nymphs and adults have a feeding time of 5-10 minutes. Once adulthood has been achieved, a well fed bed bug has a life expectancy of 6-10 months. An undernourished one can live 12+ months as a mode of self preservation.[2][3]

To reiterate, these small creature's populations are on the rise and fighting to survive. The United States has definitely seen this evolution and it is purported Europe may have also begun to experience the same alterations in these little pests. Research has now shown bedbugs have started to develop a thicker and harder exoskeleton (outer body shell). They also have altered their internal body chemistry - becoming much more resistant to pyrethrins/pyrethroids (made from the chrysanthemum plant and the synthetic version), the most commonly used pesticides for eradication. Again, the cleanest and fanciest hotels are not immune to an infestation.[3]

  • Image courtesy of the Bedbugs.org website.

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Avoidance

The following advice is provided from about.com: When entering a hotel room, look around. Bed bugs are large enough to see. Look particularly under the mattress and in the seams, in and around the bedframe, and along any cracks or peeling paint in the wall or picture frames. Check in the cracks of any wooden furniture, particularly antiques. You can also spot bed bugs droppings, which may be tinged with blood.[4]

Since this article's original posting, more details are now available on where bed bugs can hide in hotels, hostels and your own home (especially if they hitch a ride on/in your luggage):[3]

  • Inside drawers and along the drawer's 'slide' area
  • In and under upholstered furniture: such as sofas, chairs and beds
  • Under baseboards
  • On pajamas or other sleeping clothes
  • Underneath wallpaper
  • Under loose carpet and under rugs
  • Along and inside all parts of a mattress
  • Inside box springs
  • Between curtain folds
  • Inside phones, clocks, TVs and stereos
  • Inside cracked plaster
  • Around the casings of doors and windows
  • Behind all wall decorations, including posters and paintings

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The Bites and Symptoms

Bed bugs are very adept at making sure you are not aware of their feeding ritual until after-the-fact. Their saliva contains an 'anesthetic' compound which numbs the the area of the bite. Makes sense when they feed on a body for up to 10 minutes. Most people will develop a red itchy welt, which can become apparent within hours or as long as a few days. Mosquitoes and/or fleas are usually considered as the source of the bite when (in reality) it's the bed bug who is the culprit. The neck, face, arms, legs and lower torso are the most common sites. Depending on the population inhabiting an area, multiple bites will be in the form of clusters (usually on the face and torso) or lines ( on arms and legs). If you are bitten, the good news is bed bugs are not known for transmitting any diseases or infections to their host.

Some people may experience an allergic reaction - such as hives. Those who develop an infection from the bites commonly do so because of scratching that itch with their fingernails. The abrasion caused by the scratching allows the bacteria hiding under (everyone's) fingernails to penetrate the site. The infection is not caused by the bed bug but is from a secondary source - ie: fingernails, unwashed clothings, etc.[3][5]

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Treatment

The treatments for bed bug bites are pretty straight forward.

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Protecting Your Luggage

From the City of Ottawa site, they suggest the following. When travelling, take the following precautions:

  • Upon entering your room, leave your luggage outside or in the centre of the room.
  • During your stay, keep all belongings in your luggage and wrap your luggage in a white plastic bag to help prevent bed bugs from entering your luggage. If possible, move the bed away from the wall, tuck in all bed sheets and keep blankets from touching the floor.
  • When you return home, keep your luggage in an isolated area of your home, such as the garage. Give your luggage a thorough inspection. Remove clothing from luggage and wash in the hottest water possible and dry in a hot air clothes drier.

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This is version 19. Last edited at 23:57 on Jun 4, 13 by Peter. 1 article links to this page.

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