Today’s news from the Journal of the American Medical Association that bedbugs don’t spread disease should be reassuring. But if you’ve ever been bitten by them, as I have, and suffered the nonstop itching and ensuing mental anxiety, that’s small comfort.
I was bitten by bedbugs after staying at a hotel in Bloomington, Ind., last fall. And it was a nice hotel. I didn’t notice the bites until I got home a week later. (Sometimes it takes that long for a reaction to emerge.) I woke up with a crazy-itchy arm and found red welts running down my shoulder all the way to my fingers. It was the classic three-bite “breakfast, lunch, and dinner” pattern of bedbug marks, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought they were spider bites, but a friend at work who knew about my hotel stay brought up the horrifying possibility that maybe this was the work of bedbugs.
I went to a dermatologist who confirmed that my bites were consistent with the bedbugs’ munching pattern. She prescribed a cream to ease the itchiness, which lasted another week and was worse than any mosquito bite. Even more disturbing, though, was the mental creep-out: Had the pests hitched a ride in my luggage, and were they now waiting for their next meal in my bed?
So I scoured our site for tips on how to deal with bedbugs. That was especially helpful because we pointed to some information from the Harvard School of Public Health that said the first step in getting rid of bedbugs is finding one.
So I tried. I used a sticky-tape roller to collect samples of what I thought might be bedbug carcasses from along the seams of my mattress and at the head and foot of the bed. I brought them to my local cooperative extension office for identification. The verdict? I had collected lint, dead skin, and one decapitated ant. When no new bites appeared on my skin after a couple of weeks, I was relieved to know that I probably did not bring the bedbugs home.
Still, my fear of hotel rooms remains. Yes, I called the hotel in Indiana. They said they searched the room and didn’t find anything. But I now take extra care when traveling, like those outlined in our tips for avoiding bedbugs while on the road.:
- When you first get in your room, lift the mattress and check underneath for the telltale signs—dark brown or reddish fecal spots. I carry a flashlight to help with my inspection. I haven’t seen anything yet, but if I did I would ask for a new room in another part of the hotel.
- Don’t put suitcases on the bed, and hang everything in the closet. Pack large plastic trash bags to house your luggage while you’re there.
- When you get home, don’t just dump your luggage on your bed. Wash all your clothes—even those you haven’t worn. Leaving your luggage to bake in a nice hot trunk on a summer day, encased in a plastic trash bag for extra warmth, is not a bad idea either. Bedbugs can’t survive temperatures of above 120 degrees F.
—Sue Byrne, senior Web editor