By Carla Wagner –Biologist –Wild Goose Chase – Canine Detection & Inspection Services
Business travelers beware: in the past few years there has been an explosion in the bed bug population, and you don’t have to travel overseas for these pesky pin sized bugs to hitch a ride back to your own home. An increase in non-stop international travel, along with the ban of DDT, and the lack of safe chemicals available for use in sleeping areas, these insects have been becoming more prevalent throughout the US in recent years.
From New York to Chicago, Boston to Cincinnati and beyond, the increase in bed bug infestations has led to task forces and advocacy groups such as Chicago vs. Bed Bugs, to be formed along with calls to local and federal government officials to develop legislation to help combat the spread and impact of bed bugs. Major pest control companies have reported anywhere from double to quadruple the number of bed bug calls from 2007 to 2008 depending on the region. The problem is growing so quickly that the EPA held its first ever summit solely dedicated to the subject of bed bugs earlier this year and North Carolina Congressman G.K. Butterfield introduced the “Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite Act of 2009” to the US House of Representatives in May of this year. There is even an online registry where hotels and addresses where bed bugs have been found can be posted anonymously.
In light of the increasing risk of picking up hitch hiker bed bugs, what are travelers to do? Should you plan on only staying in expensive four star hotels? That won’t really help. Bed bugs don’t discriminate based on the price of rooms, and since they hide deep in cracks and crevices, and their only need is people to feed on, infestations are not indicative of poor housekeeping practices. How about checking the bed bug registry before choosing a hotel? That may provide some interesting information; however these reports can be made by anybody, and are not verified by an outside source. Also keep in mind that bed bugs travel with people and therefore can be brought in to any place at any time. A hotel that is bed bug free one day may have the beginning of an infestation arrive with the next visitor.
There are some good practices to follow to reduce your risk of being bitten and more importantly carrying hitchhiking bed bugs home with your when traveling. First, do your own inspection of the room before settling in (you don’t have to always travel with a bed bug dog, although that would be nice). Pull back the sheets and look for bugs, dead or alive, as well as fecal spots or blood spots on the sheets. Also look under the piping along edges of the mattress as well as along mattress handles and any tears in the mattress or box springs for the same signs. Also check any crevices in the headboards and along picture frames. If you find any signs of infestation, report it to hotel staff immediately and do not stay in that room or any adjoining rooms. Never unpack your clothes into the dresser drawers, but rather keep them in your luggage on the luggage rack, and keep your luggage closed and zipped when not being used. When you get home, wash all of your clothes, preferably in hot water, but more importantly dry them thoroughly in the dryer under high heat. Dry clean only materials can be placed directly in the dryer to kill any bed bugs that may be present. Following these few simple steps and staying informed will help minimize your risk of infestation, however if you suspect that your home has become infested, your best bet is to hire a professional with bed bug experience that is willing to use an integrated approach to help eliminate your bed bugs. Travelers are not on their own when it comes to fighting bed bugs. The hotel industry is stepping up efforts and constantly on the lookout for new technologies to aid in the battle. Fortunately man’s best friend is coming through for us again. Throughout time dogs have been working for mankind in various ways whether it be aiding in the hunt, herding the flock, finding lost people, chasing geese, searching for drugs and bombs, or tracking down fugitives. Along with their unwavering loyalty and boundless energy there is one trait in dogs that has proven the most useful to humans, their incredible sense of smell. Dogs are capable of detecting odors on the level of parts per trillion—there is no man made device that can perform like a dog when it comes to scent detection; they truly are a cutting edge technology. Dogs (more accurately their noses) have even been recognized in the courts as a scientific instrument used in detection work. One of the newest applications of this proven technology is bed bug detection. A properly trained and certified dog can detect a single bed bug hidden in the furniture of a hotel room. More importantly, a trained dog and handler team can search a room in far less time and with far greater accuracy than a trained inspector by themselves. Canine inspections can play an integral role in IPM plans enabling hotels to catch and treat bed bug infestations before they spread and become severe enough to impact hotel guests.
Carla Wagner is staff biologist and licensed pest control operator for Wild Goose Chase, the parent company of Canine Detection & Inspection Services LLC specializing in bed bug detection using professionally trained dog and handler teams.