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Detecting Bed Bugs In Lodgings

I mentioned that I had a very close call on my current Road Trip to Los Angeles.  I had researched some hotels and motels in the Sunset Area of Los Angeles and found one that appeared to be good value and fair pricing for the accommodations.  After I had already forked over my credit card and booked for one week I had a few spare minutes to dig further into the hotel I was going to be staying at.

To my horror, after digging deep into the Internet, I found more than one review that said the hotel had bed bugs.  One reviewer said that they taped the dead bugs they killed to a piece of paper and then took them to the front desk.  The front desk said it was a "fluke" and moved them to a new room.  Even after the moved, they were bitten in several places.  They checked out the next day but had spent two nights being bitten by bed bugs.

After I read that review I dug even deeper and found a few more reviews about the same hotel near Sunset.  I freaked out.  However, I decided I would arm myself with as much information as possible before I agreed to check in.  After doing research I found a list of things to look for in a hotel, motel, bed and breakfast or cruise ship before being willing to stay there.

I promised I would provide all the tips I had gleaned to looking for bed bugs and thus this blog is dedicated to that topic.

One thing to note about bed bugs.  If they have infested a room where you stay, there is a high likelihood that the bugs will hitchhike a ride in your luggage back to your home or primary residence.  That was even more horrifying to me than the idea of getting bit all night long by tiny brown bugs that look like mini cockroaches.  I work hard to keep my home bug free and the thought of them following me home from a tainted hotel made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up.

What should you do before you make reservations with a hotel, motel or cruise ship?

1.  Dig, dig, dig.  Even though I read the obvious reviews of my intended hotel, it wasn't until I did cross searches on the hotel in question that I found the hidden reviews about the bed bugs.

Obviously any lodging establishment does not want the word to get out that they have bed bugs.  Why?  In most cases one of the primary ways to eliminate the bugs is to destroy the mattress and/or box springs where the bugs live.  How many hotels or motels can afford to buy all new bedding?  Especially now in this economy.

Bed bugs can pop up in some of the best hotels.  News reports in recent years have focused on the discovery of bed bugs in upscale hotels, and a number of lawsuits have been filed by guests in these fashionable hotels who awoke to find hundreds of bed bug bites covering their skin.  Yes, hundreds.

Searching on Tripadvisor and other travel-review sites regularly reveals information and even photos confirming the presence of bed bugs in numerous hotels.  Since the bed bugs can arrive on the clothing or in the suitcases of guests from infested homes or other hotels harboring the pests, hotels can be an easy target for bed bug infestations.

2.  Even it you think a place is safe, always check for signs of the bugs.  There are many things you can do.  The first check should always be on the mattress.  Yes, it means you will have to unmake the bed but better safe than sorry.  Right?

The bugs may be difficult to spot with the naked eye, especially if they have not eaten for awhile and are flat.  After they have eaten they can grow to 3x their normal size.  They are approximately 4-5 mm in length when they are flat (haven't fed) and they can hide in tiny crevices and creases.  Their favorite hiding spot is in a mattress, mattress cover or in pillows.  Afterall, their primary source of food is human blood and they feed at night when their prey is asleep.

3.  It's unlikely you will see the bugs themselves, especially during the day.  They are nocturnal.  However, you can find what they leave behind.

Check the mattresses, all parts of the beds, and any obvious cracks or crevices around the bed. The presence of bed bugs is accompanied by a reddish brown stain.

This is a combination of their waste and blood drops from victims. You may actually see drops of dried blood, block spots or even streaks. If you see a pattern of small brown, red or brownish red dots on the mattress, on the pillows (check inside the covers) on the mattress pads or anywhere on the bed, this is a strong indication.

If you see other signs of the bugs you might look for their eggs.  The eggs are amber colored and very small if unhatched or white if hatched.  A female bed bug can lay 500 eggs.

4.  If the female bed bug has actually laid eggs, there will be what is known as white nymphs located there. You will be able to see the excrement, and the empty skins that have been shed in case bed bugs are present.  Don't forget to look along the frame of the bed for the shells and other remains.  Many hotels that know they have a bed bug problem will try to vacuum up the excrement and skins BUT unless they bring in brand new mattresses, the reddish brown dots will be there.

5. If you are staying somewhere because you have to and you want to know if the bed bugs are present, try waking up in the dead of the night (somewhere around 3-4 am), and stay very still.  If they are there you may feel them crawling over you to your shoulders or any exposed body parts. If you jerk or move, the bed bug will jerk and run off as well.  If you again stay perfectly still, it will advance to the exposed parts of your body. In case you again move, the bed bug will get freaked and may run back to its hideout.

While wearing as many clothes as possible to bed will minimize the biting, the bugs will gravitate to the neck, the face and any uncovered body parts.  Although rumors have circulated that lavender oil can drive them away, this does not appear to be true.

It is also not true that they will stay away if you sleep with the lights on.  If you do try to detect them during the middle of the night and don't want to lay still, you can use a flashlight to try and catch them running through the bed.  Bed bugs will scurry if they are crawling in the dark and come under the instant glare of a flashlight or other light.

6.  Bed Bugs may also leave an odor.  Some people describe it as musky and others as stale while others say it has a strong smell of raspberries.  Yes that's right, raspberries.  It is because of the build up of the waste from the bugs and shed shells that may remain behind.

7.  If you are researching a hotel and you don't see any reviews that indicate bed bugs, consider checking with the local health department.  Bed bugs are considered a health risk.  If you check into a hotel, don't see evidence of bugs but wake up with little red welts and bites, please try to find evidence and contact the local health department.

Also, if you do stay somewhere with bed bugs, please post a review where people can find it.  If you have a digital camera, take photos of the spots on the mattresses or any bug remains you find.  Also, take photos of your bites to present to the health department.

8.  If you have been exposed to bed bugs in your lodging, to prevent infesting your house put all your bags and everything you traveled with in plastic bags, tie them air tight and let them sit for 2 weeks to make sure the bugs have suffocated.

Also, when you do unwrap the bags, wash any clothes in scalding hot water to make sure you kill any larva or other bug remains.  Once they infect a house they spread like wildfire and will infect furniture, pets, stuffed animals.  It is unbelievable how fast they multiply.

9.  Stay in a national hotel chain.  Usually they are petrified of bed bug contamination since it can completely ruin their reputation.  Yes, beg bugs do make it into some of the top hotels but they are usually wiped out quickly even it if means getting all new bed and fumigating an entire wing of the residence.  If you stay in a mom and pop hotel or motel they have less resources to end the contamination.

10.  If you are a member, always contact AAA to see what they can tell you about a property.  You can ask if they know of bed bug contamination in a desired lodging.  If they know, they will probably tell you.

11.  If you think you are getting attacked by bugs and want proof you can do a common trapping. Take double sided sticky tape and attach it to the edges of the mattress, box spring, and on the floor around the bed. Make sure you aren't going to stick yourself so make sure you take care if you use this method. Wait four to seven days. If the bugs are there you should catch a few in the tape.  This will give you evidence for the health department or to present to the owner of the lodging establishment.

Keep in mind that bed bugs thrive in warmer climates and while they are spreading all over the United States, they are more prevalent in warmed climates like Florida, California and Texas.  Studies have shown that bed bugs don't like temperatures below 32 degrees or above 120 Fahrenheit.  Bed bugs don't fly or jump but they will travel long distances to get to a warm blooded meal.  They don't eat wood and prefer people to pets although they have been known to feed on bats.


Always do extensive research on cruise ships.  Once bed bugs have infested a few rooms, it is only a matter of time before they will explode throughout an entire motel, hotel or cruise ship.  If you find hints of the bugs do NOT check or check out immediately.  Do not unpack your clothes until you are sure the room is safe.  If you are going on a cruise and you discover the bugs after you are on the ship, there's not much you can do at that point.  So be sure to really make sure the ship is bed bug free.

Bed bugs do not always attack on a daily basis.  Sometimes they wait a few days between feedings.  They have also been known to wait up to 18 months to appear.  Its possible you might check into a hotel with bed bug issues and not see them because they feasted on the prior visitors, especially if you only stay 1 night.  However, when it comes to bed bugs, don't mess around.  Check before you even settle in.

Check Out This Excellent Article About Bed Bugs from Dr. Harold Harlan, a bed bug expert.

Also check out the info on MedicineNet which is also excellent.

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