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How to Check for Bed Bugs

Inspect Your Hotel at Check-In to Avoid Unwanted Souvenirs Later

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bed bugs

Know how to check for bed bugs at your hotel.

Photo by A.L. Szalanski / Creative Commons

A few minutes of your time at check-in may save hassle on your trip and help avoid a costly extermination bill at home. Knowing how to check for bed bugs in your hotel reduces the chances that you'll bring the biters home with you.

Once thought eradicated, the dreaded bed bug is back with a vengeance. And don't think for a minute that these annoying pests only prefer dank budget hotels: Infestations are regularly becoming a problem in five-star hotels and resorts.

Getting rid of bed bugs brought home from vacation can be costly and time consuming; you're better off avoiding them in the first place. Fortunately, you can learn to check your hotel rooms for infestations before you spend a night of sleeping with the enemy.

Read about what to expect from budget accommodation in Asia.

What are Bed Bugs?

Experts disagree as to why bed bugs, once thought eradicated in North America, have returned. One theory suggests that harmful pesticides now banned were actually helping to keep the critters in check. Regardless, infestations -- and the stigma attached to them -- are causing problems in places from hospitals to high-rise resorts. Eggs have even been found attached to new clothing in department stores.

Bed bugs start small but grow to about the size of your smallest fingernail. Reddish-brown and oval-shaped, they prefer to feed at night. Bed bugs bite much like mosquitoes do: they first inject an anesthetic so that victims don't feel the bite. Bites later appear as red, itchy whelps and often in rash-like lines.

The good news? Bed bugs are not known to carry any diseases such as dengue fever and don't pose a serious health threat. The real problem is getting rid of the persistent creatures without inadvertently spreading them to friends and loved ones. Able to withstand freezing temperatures and go a full year without eating, bed bugs know how to thrive and spread the love.

How to Check for Bed Bugs

Bed bugs can tag along after your trip in one of two ways:

  • Actual bugs can crawl inside of your luggage and belongings.
  • Their sticky eggs can cling to fabrics.

When you first enter your room, avoid putting luggage on the bed or floor where it may come into contact with eggs. Keep bags elevated on furniture or leave them on the cart, then before unpacking or getting settled, do a precursory check for bed bugs.

Bed bugs are elusive and feed primarily at night, but you can detect signs of their activity. Begin by searching the obvious place: the bed. Remove linen and look closely at the seams, in cracks and crevices, and around the tag of the mattress. Check around the headboard, under the mattress, and around the legs of the bed. Bed bugs can even cram eggs into the tops of screws that hold bed frames together.

Any of the following may be an indication of bed bugs:

  • Brown, translucent skins that have been shed during growth stages.
  • Wet, sticky matter with a peculiar smell may be fecal matter.
  • A sweet or decayed smell described by some as rotting raspberries.
  • Tiny specs of blood on the sheets or mattress may be an indication of problems in the past.

Don't just narrow your inspection to the bed. Although bed bugs prefer to congregate near their food source -- you -- they also live in furniture, along baseboards, and even at the bottom of curtains. Use a flashlight and check hiding places low to the ground.

What to Do if You Encounter Bed Bugs

Don't panic, but run! First, get belongings off of the bed and floor; minimize the risk that you offer any biters free transportation to the next hotel.

Leave the lights on in the room. If you managed to kill a bed bug, take it to reception and discreetly approach the management for a refund. The staff will inevitably offer to move you to a different room, however, you should plan to leave the hotel immediately. Bed bugs can traverse tiny cracks in the walls or housekeeping may unknowingly move them from place to place.

If one room is infested, chances are that many more share the same problem.

Stand strong and argue your case. Although the hotel may have your money, they certainly don't want word of their 'little problem' going public. Unfortunately, given the expense of eradicating bed bugs at home, you are better off just accepting a partial discount or taking the loss, then finding a new place to stay.

After leaving the infested hotel, do a thorough inspection of your clothing and luggage to ensure that no wet, brown eggs became attached.

When You Return Home

If you think that you have been exposed to bed bugs, or even just to err on the side of caution, 'quarantine' your bags when you return home from a long trip. Don't put them near the bed to unpack!

Keep bags in the basement, garage, or laundry room; wash all fabrics -- including new purchases -- with high heat. Inspect crevices and hidden places in your luggage to ensure that no eggs became attached. Remember: Just because bags have been left unused in a closet for months does not mean that they are safe. Bed bugs can survive extreme cold and go a full year without feeding; high heat is the best way to stop a colony from forming.

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