How to deal with bedbugs

Nothing sends a shiver down a traveler's spine quite like the prospect of bedbugs. After 50 years of virtual absence in the USA, bedbugs came back with a vengeance in 2010, giving rise to such hysteria that Chicago hosted a bedbug summit with demos on how to freeze or fry the bugs. In New York City, the little guys were being found in dorms, offices, penthouses. While the pandemonium might have abated (for now), no destination is immune to these little vampires and a tidy well-kept room doesn't always mean a bug-free zone.

Bed bug by liz.novack. Creative Commons Attribution licence

But let's take a deep breath and relax on this. Bedbugs are a problem, but there are a couple things to do to help minimize risk of getting bites, or taking them home with you from a trip.

1. Do your research

When planning where to stay, check for recent complaints of hotels at BedBugRegistry.com or Bedbugger.com.

2. Search your room for bugs

After checking into your room or dorm, search mattress seams and bedside tables for signs of bugs (blood or fecal stains, or actual bugs). Note that one infested room doesn't mean all rooms in the hotel have them. This handy list on Bedbug.com has tips on steering clear of bloodsuckers on planes, in tents, RVs and everywhere else you never imagined bedbugs might lurk.

3. Don't scratch the itch

If you're unlucky enough to be bitten, resist the urge to scratch. Wash the bites and treat them with an anti-itch cream. Not sure it was a bedbug? Their bites tend to be in lines or concentrated areas (they basically graze across your skin) and bites can appear up to two days after exposure. If there's an insect burrowed into you, that isn't a bedbug - seek medical help immediately as you might have a tick.

4. Don't let bedbugs hitch a ride with you

Prevent taking them home by storing your suitcase on a stand, and well away from the bed. Pack your dirty clothes in sealable bags if you think you've been in bedbug-infested quarters. Tell the hotel or hostel that you suspect bedbugs and try to specify the room you stayed in.

5. Wash, heat and destroy

Wash all your clothes – even if you didn't wear them – and dry on 'hot' if possible. This handy FAQ has tips on getting rid of the little vamps and dealing with bedbug eggs.

6. Prepare for round two

Bedbugs can be notoriously tricky to get rid of. They can survive a year without feeding, they can lurk in the tiniest corners, and pest controllers sometimes need to make repeat visits to get rid of them.

Bedbugs aren't fun, but at least they don't transmit any diseases. And one entomologist noted in the Times that 'we probably have no greater admirers in the insect world'. So there's that. Unlike real vampires, it'd seem, bedbugs really really like us.

This article was first published in October 2010 and was refreshed in July 2012.