Checking for Unwanted Travelers: Bedbug Scouting After Holiday Travel
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January marks the beginning of the New Year, but also the end of the major travel season that surrounds many important holidays around the world. According to AAA estimates, 112.7 million people were expected to journey 50 miles or more away from home from December 23 to January 2. People were not deterred by the threat of RSV, COVID-19 or the flu, but the weather and the airlines made travel challenging. But there is at least one thing that would not be deterred by the season’s travel chaos: bedbugs. Now is a good time to review how these seemingly insignificant insects can hitch a ride, what to do after you travel to prevent them from moving in, and how to get rid of them if they try to take up residence.
What To Look For
The species of bedbugs we are most likely going to see in North Carolina is Cimex lectularius, in the Order Hemiptera, because this species prefers a more temperate climate. The insect is usually a dark brown to reddish oval shape, and molts five times from hatching to their adult form. They need to feed at least once between each molt. Immature stages can survive more than two months without feeding; however, most juvenile forms usually develop into adults within two to six weeks. Under favorable conditions, each female lays between 200 to 500 eggs. When the insects feed regularly, eggs are laid in batches of 10 to 50 at 3- to 15-day intervals. The ideal temperature for egg-laying is 70°F (21°C) and above, which just happens to be the ideal temperature of most American homes. Once the temperature drops below 50°F (10°C) egg production stops.
Bedbugs hide during the day in the cracks and crevices of beds, baseboards, furniture and clothes, and come out at night to feed on any warm-blooded animal within their walking distance. The tell-tale signs of bedbugs are red-brown stains on sheets, mattresses and baseboards from fecal matter and blood. If an infestation is particularly bad, there can be an accumulation of body cases from molting. Bedbug bites in humans usually show up as swollen welts, as the body reacts to the insect’s mouthparts piercing the skin. That being said, bedbugs are not known to vector, or transfer, diseases.
How They Hitch a Ride
It is a common misconception that you only get bedbugs under unsanitary conditions. The reality is that it is easy to pick up bedbugs as you travel, no matter how seemingly clean you keep yourself. Picking up someone’s coat, sitting on a communal chair, sleeping on a hotel bed are all potential places where they can hitch a ride. Humans are the main vector, or mover, of bedbugs. As more humans travel and interact with each other, the more likely you are to have an encounter with bedbugs.
How to Prevent Them Moving In
The name “bedbug” comes from their tendency to feed on humans as they sleep in bed, and that the bed is a common place where people realize they have an infestation. As you travel, make sure to check the mattress where you are sleeping and the baseboards around the room you are staying in. These two places are usually white, and the bugs and their fecal matter can standout. Keep your clothes in your suitcase and keep your suitcase off the floor. Remember, the insects have to be able to walk to you!
Once you return home, do not put your suitcase on your bed. Wash all of your clothes and dry them on high heat for about 30 minutes. The insects cannot survive this process. Take a warm shower and change your sheets on your bed regularly. If you are particularly concerned, check your mattress for the few weeks following your return and monitor yourself for bites.
How to Evict Them if They Try to Move In
There are three steps to controlling bedbugs if you think they’ve moved in. The first step is verifying that you have bedbugs. Capture some of the insects and place them in a plastic bag, and then place that bag in another bag. You can bring them to the Cooperative Extension Office for identification! The second step is to identify where they are living in your home, checking the places mentioned before. There are some companies that offer dog services to detect where infestations are. If you decide to go this route, make sure to verify the handler is licensed with the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) and that the dog was trained by a reputable trainer.
Finally, the third step is control, and this can be a very long and drawn-out process. It is important to have completed the first two steps in order to develop an appropriate plan for control. Most fogger products available to consumers are not going to be effective against bedbugs because they cannot penetrate where they are in your home. It is highly recommended to work with an appropriately-licensed pest control company that can give professional recommendations and who are trained to appropriately use chemicals and other strategies to treat bedbugs.
The North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services advises that if you think you have encountered bedbugs to contact your local health department or the Sleep Products Section at (919) 733-3556.
Amanda Wilkins is the Horticulture Agent for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.