Everyone loves to bring memories and mementos back from vacation. But there’s one souvenir you don’t want to carry home with you: bed bugs.

You can find bed bugs in almost any public space, especially where people sleep. In the past decade, bed bugs have started turning up in more and more hotels, even high-end ones, particularly in large metropolitan areas.

Bed bugs can hitchhike with guests and their belongings and follow them to their next destination. Bed bug treatment is difficult and may require tossing out mattresses or infested furniture. When you travel, protecting yourself to make sure that bed bugs don’t come home with you is the best way to avoid dealing with an infestation.

What do bed bugs look like?

“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite” was a charming rhyme until a decade or so ago, when people weren’t actually worried about bed bugs in mattresses and bed linens. Bed bugs were incredibly common in the early 20th century, but nearly disappeared for about 40 years.

In the last seven to 10 years, however, bed bugs have made an unwelcome comeback. No one is sure exactly why, and USA Today offers a few theories, but one reason could come down to the fact that people are just traveling more.

What do bed bugs look likeBed bugs are tiny, wingless, reddish-brown insects approximately the size of an apple seed. They are flat, broad and oval when unfed, and swollen and elongated after a blood meal.

They are most often found in or around mattresses and bedding, but can infest nearly anyplace in a home – behind baseboards, in cracks and crevices, in electrical switchplates, and behind picture frames or wallpaper. These bloodsucking parasites usually hide during the daytime, then come out at night. They only take about five to ten minutes to feed, then move to a secluded place for several days to digest their meal, mate, and lay eggs. The eggs hatch in just six to ten days, which explains how just a few bed bugs can quickly become an infestation.

Bed bug bites resemble mosquito or flea bites, causing swollen, itchy red spots, most commonly on the hands or feet. While a few people may have allergic reactions, many don’t even realize that they’ve been bitten, as swelling from a bite can sometimes take a few hours to appear. Thankfully, bed bugs don’t carry diseases, and unlike ticks or fleas, bed bugs don’t latch on when they feed.

Bed bugs can be found worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and don’t reflect on the cleanliness of any accommodation – even a five-star hotel can have bed bugs.

Avoiding Bed Bugs

There are precautions you can take when you travel to make sure you don’t have an unexpected encounter with bed bugs.

Where to bed bugs hideWhen you arrive at your hotel, don’t stow your luggage on upholstered furniture. Plop that suitcase on a desk or other hard surface. If you use a luggage rack, inspect it for bed bugs first. Some experts even suggest placing your luggage in the bathtub, which offers a slippery surface that bugs can’t cling to easily.

Before crawling into bed, pull back the corners of the bedding and check both the mattress and sides of the box spring for signs of bed bugs. Pay special attention to creases and seams, where these critters love to linger. Bed bugs molt and shed their skin before each new life stage, so look for pieces of tan or off-white shells that resemble hollow bugs. Other telltale signs of infestation may include a musty odor and rust-colored spots, or small black dots, which are their deposits after they feed.

If you see anything suspicious, or if you wake up with any unexplained bites or welts, stay calm and contact hotel staff immediately.

When You Get Home

Once they’ve made their way into a home, bed bugs are notoriously difficult to eliminate. They feed on human blood about once a week, but can live several months without a “blood meal,” and can withstand temperatures from freezing to 122°F.

As with any potential infestation, taking precautions is your best strategy for bed bug control. Follow these tips after a trip help avoid bringing any unwanted hitchhikers into your home:

  • Wash all of your clothes in hot water and dry them on high heat—even if you haven’t worn them—so that no bed bugs end up in your closet and dressers.
  • Inspect your luggage. Don’t unpack with your suitcase atop a bed, couch or other upholstered furniture. Instead, remove the contents in an uncarpeted area such as a laundry room, kitchen, garage, or foyer.
  • Store your suitcase in a non-living space, if possible, such as an attic, basement, or garage. If you must store the suitcase in a bedroom or under your bed, wrap it in a large trash bag and seal the bag.

Finally, if you have any reason to suspect that bed bugs made their way into your home, don’t delay in finding professional treatment. Click here to find your local HomeTeam branch to determine if bed bug elimination service is offered.

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