Bedbugs: The ultimate jetsetters

By The Health News Team | January 3, 2024
Woman entering hotel room with suitcase

In France, during Paris Fashion Week, you were likely to find super models, haute couture, celebrities and … bedbugs. According to reports out of the City of Lights, bedbugs were the not-so-hot accessory during the recent weeklong celebration of style.

But what happened when the attendees packed up their designer goods and headed home — many to the U.S.? Well, according to social media posts and news reports, the bedbugs became their unwelcome travel mates.

“There are 3.6 million people who come into Paris every day,” Emmanuel Gregoire, deputy mayor of Paris, told French media. “And bedbugs do not stop on the outskirts of the city.”

The wrong kind of ‘travel bug’

Whether you’re planning to travel to Paris — or Perris (in Riverside) — here’s what you need to know about bedbugs, the absolute worst souvenir to bring home from a trip:

What are bedbugs?

Bedbugs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports, are small, flat, reddish-brown insects that feed solely on the blood of people and animals while they sleep. They can travel from one destination to the next — usually in luggage, folded clothes or anywhere else they can hide — and can survive for up to a year without feeding.

Where are you most likely to find bedbugs?

Bedbugs love to hang out where people sleep, lying in wait for their next meal. This, the CDC says, includes apartments, shelters, rooming houses, hotels, cruise ships, buses, trains and dorm rooms. However, they’re usually smart enough to stay out of sight during the day.

The pests can be found as easily in a luxury resort as they can in a low-cost motel. And their presence is not affected by cleanliness — or a lack of it.

How can I check for bedbugs?

When travelling or staying anywhere outside your home, always check for bedbugs before unpacking, undressing, lying in a bed, or sitting on furniture. Look for:

  • Bedbugs on or near the bed, usually in the folds of mattresses and sheets, or on other furniture

  • Bedbug exoskeletons, which look like empty bug shells, after they’ve been shed

  • Rust–colored blood spots on bedding or nearby furniture

  • Tiny black specks, which could be bedbug ‘poop’

  • Small, pearl-colored, oval-shaped bedbug eggs

  • A sweet, musty odor

What happens if a bedbug bites me?

You may not know a bedbug has bitten you until hours or days later, when bite marks appear. Orkin, a pest-control company, says the bites are usually small, flat or raised areas that can be itchy, red or blistered. The bites are often grouped together in a small area and may appear in a line or zigzag pattern.

Some people have no reaction at all to bedbug bites. While, on the other hand, others may be highly allergic and can experience painful swelling at the site of the bites or anaphylaxis, a serious — and potentially life-threatening — allergic reaction.

How should I treat bedbug bites?

If there’s no sign of blistering, hives or infection, you can usually treat bedbug bites at home. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends washing the area where you’ve been bitten with soap and water and applying an over-the-counter corticosteroid cream if the bites are itchy. However, if you have several bites or blisters, or if your skin feels swollen or tender and oozes pus, you should seek treatment.

How can I prevent transporting bedbugs from one place to the next?

If you’ve recently traveled and are concerned you might have brought bedbugs home, check your luggage, handbags, backpacks, coats and other belongings for signs of bedbugs before bringing them inside. If you’re still concerned — or found telltales signs of bedbug presence — the AAD recommends the following:

  • Wash all the clothing that you brought home in hot water in a washing machine. If something cannot go into the washing machine, put it in the dryer and set it to its hottest setting.

  • Dry your clothes after washing them in a clothes dryer, using the hottest setting.

  • Put items that can’t be washed into a plastic garbage bag or storage container and seal it tightly, leaving the bag securely closed in an extremely cold or hot setting for a few months or up to a year in a room-temperature setting.

  • Use a hand steamer to clean your luggage to kill any bedbugs and their eggs.

Bedbugs can also be brought into a home on secondhand clothing or furniture. Check any preowned items for signs of bedbugs before putting them on or bringing them into your living spaces.

What should I do if I find bedbugs in my home?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), getting rid of a bedbug infestation can take months. While professional pest control businesses can offer specialized treatment using the latest technology to remove bedbugs, there are some things you can try on your own.

The EPA recommends you:

  • Seal cracks and crevices with silicon caulk and remove clutter to eliminate areas where bedbugs can hide.

  • Remove and treat infested items through washing, disinfecting, using EPA-approved pesticides, or placing them in a sealed plastic bag or storage container for up to a year.

  • Cover mattresses and box springs with protective covers to seal them, thus trapping and killing any bedbugs.

  • Regularly vacuum, always immediately sealing the vacuum bag as tightly as possible and disposing it in an outdoor trash container.

  • Destroy furniture that can’t be rid of a bedbug infestation, so someone else won't be tempted to use it in their home. Tear covers, remove stuffing, use spray paint to label it with "bedbugs," and discard it appropriately with your trash collector.

  • Regularly check for signs of continued bedbug infestation and repeat the above as needed.

Talk with your doctor if you are concerned about possible bedbug bites. It is important to seek treatment if you are having a severe reaction to bedbug bites, such as difficulty breathing, fever or irregular heartbeat, or fear your bedbug bites have become infected.

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