The Least You Need to Know About Bedbugs

Woman pulling suitcase

Woman pulling suitcaseIf you stay in hotels, you need to read this.  Bedbugs have become nearly epidemic in North America. They had been all but eradicated by the 1950’s but pesticide restrictions and the ease of global travel have allowed them to stage a comeback – and they’re back with a vengeance. One of the reasons they’re so hard to get rid of is people don’t know they’ve moved in until they’re at full infestation levels.

There are many myths surrounding this horrid little bug. Read through my top 4  – and the tips at the end of this post – to make your hotel stays safer.

Myth Number 1: I’m safe from bedbugs if I stay in expensive hotels.
Not true. Bedbugs are just as happy in 5-star hotels as they are in cheap motels. They truly are an equal opportunity pest.

Myth Number 2: Bedbugs are easy to spot. Just pull the sheets back and look.
Not true. Most hotels will be alerted to the problem long before a particular room hits the extreme level of infestation that would have to be present for you to see them crawling around in the sheets. These little fellas prefer to stay well hidden and only emerge at night after the intended host (that’s you) has been relatively immobile for some time.

Myth Number 3: An exterminator can take care of the problem by fumigating.
Not true. At the time of this writing, there are no approved chemical agents capable of killing the hidden buggers (remember that they stay in their chosen crevice or inside an electrical outlet until you fall asleep). This is, in part, due to a ban on broad-spectrum, residual pesticides. A really good pest control company will tell you this and will suggest a multi-pronged approach that involves taking apart the furniture, ripping open the box spring and laundering absolutely everything that is in the room. And they will have to come to your home several times over the next few months to repeat the process.

Myth Number 4: Only dirty people and unkempt homes get bedbugs.
Not true. This is the worst myth of all because a false sense of immunity may prolong the diagnosis period and make eradication more difficult. Each day you delay means more eggs are laid and a larger community will have taken hold.

How To Protect Yourself When Travelling

I have two big tips to share that are based on the premise that prevention is the best medicine. They will seem extreme and unwarranted unless you’ve battled this problem in the past. If you prefer to see tips in video form, scroll down to the bottom of this post and you will see one of the best YouTube offerings I’ve found on protecting yourself while travelling.

Check your hotel room thoroughly before unpacking. Place your belongings in the bathtub while you check out the mattress, headboard and curtains using a strong flashlight. One of their preferred hiding places is the space between the piping and the box spring  You’re looking for live bugs and you’re also looking for small stains that resemble the mark left when a Sharpie pen touches fabric. That’s liquid feces.  In case you’re thinking I’ve lost my marbles and have become obsessed over a remote possibility… I found bed bugs in an Edmonton hotel — a 4 1/2 star hotel, I might add.

Don’t lay anything on the bed. Hang your clothing in the closet and keep the suitcase stand as far from the bed as possible. This is a good practice even if you found no evidence of bugs. Most infestations are revealed through symptoms — which means you wake up with bites on your body — and not from actual insect sightings.

My Story
Apparently you’re not grossed out yet as you’re still reading so I’ll tell you my story. For two weeks my husband woke with little red marks that we mistakenly took for eczema. Since I was free of any symptoms, we ruled out anything as insidious as bedbugs. Just to be sure, though, I did check the bedding and mattress and was relieved to see absolutely nothing. One day, I happened upon a website with photos of bedbug bites illustrating the typical trio of marks that are nauseatingly referred to as breakfast, lunch and dinner. When I examined my husband’s skin more carefully, I found that same pattern. Arming myself with a magnifying glass and flashlight, I searched the bed more vigorously and this time found a shed skin. That single casing was the only thing I could find until we took the bed apart…

What I’ve just described is fairly typical. One member of the family may be affected while all others are completely free of symptoms. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have no bites; it might simply mean they don’t react to being bitten.

The next day we went to the drugstore to buy bedbug spray. I was so embarrassed, I made my husband ask for it while I stood several paces away. I got mad at him when he didn’t lower his voice — somehow I thought he could read my mind and would know I expected him to whisper. As we approached the cashier carrying every can of insecticide the store had, I couldn’t help but think I was walking the walk of shame. What a ridiculous thought but there you have it. It was in my head and I couldn’t shake it. I was certain we were carrying out the most humiliating errand in the store. That is, until I saw that the woman in front of me was purchasing three boxes of Vagisil and a shower hose.

What came next was the realization that bedbugs laugh at over-the-counter pesticides. You can spray them directly on their tiny little heads and they will simply walk away unhurriedly. We were hoping this would be a good solution as we really wanted to avoid fumigating with commercial chemicals if possible.

After much education, we discovered the key to bedbug eradication is this: know your enemy. Once you figure out their habits and find where they’re nesting, you can use mechanical means (that means squishing) and less harmful chemicals like rubbing alcohol. We became experts at disassembling and reassembling our bedroom furniture. Rubbing alcohol in a spray bottle is an amazing tool. It kills bedbugs and their eggs on contact without leaving harmful chemical residue where you sleep.

We disassembled, inspected, washed, sprayed, and reassembled everything in the bedroom several times a week for about two months. Fortunately, neither of us like to accumulate a lot of extra stuff in the bedroom. I can’t even imagine how difficult this would be in a child’s bedroom full of toys. From the day we recognized we had this problem, I kept a journal to track our activities and any bites or bug sightings. Sounds silly, I know. Why would you keep a bedbug diary? Here’s one really good reason. The only way you know it’s over is to go 60 days with no bites.

We’ve been free and clear for quite a few weeks but we’ve not come through this without scars. No itch is innocent. Anything that even slightly resembles an insect is examined under bright light. We both sleep with a flashlight close at hand and wake up several times to check out the bed. We’re doing this less and less but somehow I don’t think it will ever completely leave us. It’s hard to feel safe in your bed once you learn that some mean creatures had nested in it and you were their sustenance.

This video comes with my best recommendation.