Don't bring bed bugs home this holiday season

Don't bring bed bugs home this holiday season

JEFFERSON CITY, MO – This holiday season, travelers should be on the lookout for bed bugs.  Many people think of bed bugs as a problem of the past, but over the last several years they have made a comeback.  Unlike many other insects, bed bugs are not a sign of a dirty or unsanitary environment.  Any hotel, airport waiting area, taxi, or other public-use area could result in an unexpected encounter with this pest.  Here are answers to some of the most common questions about bed bugs.

What are bed bugs?  They are small insects, about the size of an apple seed as an adult, that survive by feeding on blood from people and sometimes animals.  They tend to be active at night when there is little activity and the person is resting for long periods of time.  In some situations such as public-use settings, bed bugs may become active during the daytime as well.  While bed bugs are unpleasant to encounter and can be a challenge to get rid of, they do not spread disease.

How common are bed bugs?  According to a 2011 survey, 1 in 5 Americans has either encountered bed bugs personally or knows someone who has.  Unfortunately, bed bugs are now a common problem across Missouri and the rest of the United States. 

Where should I check for bed bugs?  They are usually found within a few feet of a bed or common area used by people, which makes it more likely that they can easily find a blood meal.  They prefer to hide in small, dark places such as cracks, crevices, or folds in cloth and will generally stay hidden unless they are feeding.  Bed bugs are flat and can easily fit in spaces as thin as a credit card.

What are the signs of a bed bug infestation?  

  • If present in large numbers, live bed bugs may be seen directly either as adults or as smaller, immature stages, called nymphs. 
  • In small numbers, bed bugs can be more difficult to find and will require looking for less obvious signs.  On mattresses or other furniture around the bed, look for pin-head sized dark spots of dried blood.  Spotting often occurs where bed bugs defecate after feeding.  
  • Although small, bed bug eggs and empty “skins” (left behind when the bugs go from one stage to the next) can be seen with the naked eye and may be found in seams, folds, and crevices of furniture.  Eggs will be small, white specs while empty “skins” will be a clear or pale yellow. 

How can I protect myself and my family during holiday travel? 

  • Place clothing in sealable plastic bags before packing in luggage to prevent infestation when using public transportation (for example, a bus or airline cargo compartment).
  • Keep luggage and other belongings away from the walls, bed, and other resting areas in your hotel room, including chairs and sofas.  If possible, keep your belongings on a hard surface, such as tile. 
  • Do a thorough check of the bed.  Examine the headboard (including the back of it, if possible) and remove the sheets to check the seams of the mattress for signs of bed bugs.
  • Inspect curtains or side tables near the bed and couches or chairs that may be nearby.  It’s safest to keep personal items in your bag rather than unpacking and placing them in drawers or a closet.

What should I do when I return home after traveling? 

  • Prepare a space to unpack before bringing your luggage inside.  Lay out a clean sheet or piece of plastic so that you can easily spot any bed bugs that may be in or on your items as you unpack. 
  • Remove clothing from luggage and place all items that can be heated straight into the dryer on high heat for 20-30 minutes.  This will kill any stage of bed bug, even eggs, which may be in or on clothing. 
  • Inspect luggage carefully for signs of bed bugs, paying special attention to seams, zippers, folds, pockets, and wheels or feet.  Vacuum all surfaces of the luggage, inside and outside, to dislodge any bed bugs or eggs that may be on the luggage.  Replace the vacuum bag or empty the bin contents when you are done.

For more information, visit http://health.mo.gov/living/environment/bedbugs/index.php.

About the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services: The department seeks to be the leader in promoting, protecting and partnering for health. More information about DHSS can be found at health.mo.gov.

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