Summer has arrived! For many Canadian parents and children, this means traveling time; a fun time. Statistics Canada reports domestic and international travel peaks between July and September, accounting for about 30% of the total years travel. Despite soaring fuel price, the pattern seems to be no different this year. Flight Centre Canada has not seen a reduction of seasoned travelers, as advance booking for packaged holidays this year continues to rise, said Allison Eaton, Communication Manager for Flight Centre North America. Unfortunately, this exciting and fun time could be spoiled by the presence of those small blood-sucking creatures called Bed bugs. And what’s worse is if they manage to make a new home in your residence at the end of your holidays.
This article describes simple steps you could take to protect your children during vacation and prevent bed bugs from getting a free ride to your home. These steps are also applicable to those whose working conditions are conducive to bed bug infestation, such as Health Inspectors, Nurses, and Caregivers at Hospitals, Nursing homes, childcare facilities, Homeless shelters, as well as those who travels for works, such as traveling sales, construction workers, etc.
Bed bugs were considered eradicated from North America and Western Europe after World War II. Until about 10 years ago, bed bug infestation was restricted to unsanitary and crowded living conditions such as homeless shelters and jails. Now, they are widespread and a growing problem throughout North America. In Canada, the BC Provincial Ministry of Health reports a 600% increase of bed bug incidence in Southwestern BC from 2003 to 2005. In February 2008, the Toronto Public Health Department declared war on bed bugs, due to the increasing number of infestations and the potential impact on tourism. Similarly, anticipating its impact on tourism, on June 2008, PEI also declared war on bed bugs.
The cause of this resurgence is still controversial, but mostly blamed on increased international travel, banning insecticides, careless housekeeping and lack of knowledge about bed bugs.
Bed bugs are small, brownish, flat insects, about 2 mm in diameter before feeding and increasing to ~ 4 –7 mm when engorged with blood after feeding. They feed on blood, primarily human blood, but have also been reported feeding on the blood of bats, chickens and rabbits. During feeding, bed bugs release anti coagulant-contained-saliva into their hosts blood stream, to prevent blood coagulation. Human reaction to this saliva – a biologically and enzymatically active protein – that causes various degrees of itching and welts. Fortunately, despite being ectoparasites that feed on blood, there is no evidence that bed bugs spread disease. Theoretically, however, they could act as a disease vector.
Studies have identified about 28 different human pathogens naturally present in bed bugs, including plague and hepatitis B. However, there is no evidence that indicates bed bugs transmit any of these pathogens during feeding. For example, active hepatitis B viral DNA can be detected in bed bugs up to 6 weeks after they were fed with Hepatitis B infected blood. When these infected bed bugs were allowed to feed on experimental animals, hepatitis B viral DNA has never been found in the blood of these test animals. Similarly, live HIV can be detected in bed bug blood up to one hour after they were fed with HIV infested blood, but have never been shown to transmit the virus to the test animals through their feeding mechanism. It is noteworthy, however, that shedding of DNA fragments have been found in bed bugs feces, and the retention of the hepatitis B virus has been detected through the bed bugs normal molt. This finding supports the possibility of mechanical transmission of this virus to humans. For instance, when a sensitive human with a scrape or tear-off skin is exposed to the bed bugs contaminated feces. Luckily, this possibility would most likely occur only in an extremely severe infestation where bed bugs and their feces are everywhere. A severe infestation can be easily avoided by preventing bed bug from dispersing to a new location, including to your home.
Bed bugs rely on humans or animals for their dispersal. Like lice, bed bugs do not fly or crawl for a long distance. Interestingly, unlike lice, bed bugs do not have the ability to live on their hosts without being detected – hiding in hair. This makes bed bugs the only parasite that lives a distance from their hosts. And, this also explains their preference for living in close contact with humans, while maintaining their relative invisibility. Some of their notorious hiding spots are areas under the bed, mattress, furniture, clothing, even cellular phones, and more. It also explains why increasing human travel may contribute to their opportunities of finding new hosts, i.e. by hitchhiking via luggage, clothing, seats in transportation facilities, etc. In addition, many people take advantage of summer time to get rid of their unwanted furniture, mattresses, clothes, etc. Again, bed bugs can be easily spread through these objects. The following steps could prevent bed bugs from getting a free ride during your vacation or through the objects you may bring into your home:
Knowing Thy Enemy Check your local Public Health website on bed bugs, or attend community seminar on bed bug control. Many pest control companies, including Abell Pest Control Inc., offer a seminar on bed bug biology and control. The more information you know about them, the more likely you will avoid their infestation. For instance, many people wrongly assume that the temperature in the luggage compartment in an airplane is cold enough to kill bed bugs. This is not true. Bed bugs will survive in an airplane luggage compartment, even during an intercontinental flight (> 10 hours flight).
Choose an accommodation with a bed bug prevention program Please inquire of the hotel/motel/hostel receptionist regarding their bed bug prevention programs. Question such as: Whether they are using mattress encasement (a specialized mattress cover to prevent bed bugs)? How often do they inspect the room for bed bug evidence? Do they currently have any bed bug infestations? Keep in mind that bed bugs do not discriminate five star hotels from the low budget hostels. Enough evidence has shown that both classes of accommodation could have bed bug infestations. The one that does not have infestation is usually the one with a sound bed bug prevention program. Make sure you write down the statements given by the hotel staff. If you travel within North America (NA), you may want to check this website www.bedbugregistry.com, which lists all accommodations in NA that had or have bedbug infestation.
Once arrived, stay away from your hotel beds – Keep your personal items away from the bed until you verify (see point 4) the absence of bed bugs.
Do a quick inspection before using the mattress – Put your knowledge from your reading or attending bed bug seminars to the test. This inspection shouldn’t take more than ~ 15 minutes. Bring a small flashlight with you during travel. Besides useful for bed bug inspection, it can save your life during emergency, such as in a power outage during a fire. Check the mattress seams, look for bed bug fecal stains on the mattress. Should you find signs of bed bug presence, call the hotel attendant, then move to another room. A similar inspection should also be applied before you purchase any second hand items. This investment of a few minutes of your time could save you from a lot of headaches down the road.
If possible, keep personal clothing in your travel bag, zipped at all time and placed on provided stands away from the bed during your stays.
The things you need to do after coming back from your holidays:
Separate laundry Put all your vacation clothes in a plastic bag and launder them separately. Avoid dragging these clothes across the hall or on the carpet. Wash them in hot water. Remember, a coldwater wash will not kill bed bugs. Studies have shown that ~ 90 % of bed bug eggs survive a cold wash. Tumbling dry at 60oC will kill bed bugs in 20 minutes. Certainly, this is also applied to those whose working conditions are conducive to bed bug infestation.
Do another inspection Repeat step 3 above, but this time focus more on inspecting your luggage and backpacks. Ideally, this inspection should be done outside your house (such as in a garage). If you do not have a garage, do the inspection on a non-carpeted floor/area. This way it will be easy for you to spot an insect if it drops from your luggage, and bed bugs will not become camouflaged within the carpet.
If one week after your holiday you believe that you have bed bugs in your bed, try the following: change your bed sheets and replace them with a set of fresh white sheets. This will make bed bug detection much easier. For instant, to spot the blood fecal stains, bed bug cast skins, etc. on the white sheets. Do a thorough inspection one week after you replaced the sheets. If you do not see bed bug evidence both on your bed sheets and on your mattress, then, rest assured, you do not have bed bugs in your bedroom.
Avoid using store bought or counter insecticides such as Raid® during your inspection. Immediately stop your inspection once you see bed bugs or signs of bed bugs. Further inspection would only cause them to disperse and hide, making them much more difficult to find. Similarly, when using Raid® or similar aerosol type of insecticides, bed bugs are capable of detecting them and trigger them to escape to a safer zone, which usually means deeper in the mattress or inside the wall or furniture. In addition, the overuse of this insecticide (Pyrethrin) has led to an increase in bed bug resistance. Call a Pest Management Professional to handle your bed bug problem. As in many cases with biological issues, it is normally much cheaper, easier and wiser when it’s dealt with at an early stage.
Have a safe and bed bug free vacation!
For more information please visit: www.freebedbugtraining.com or check our Bed Bug Preparation Steps video.