The Christmas holidays are nearly upon us, and no matter if you’re travelling far and wide to visit friends and family, or it’s your turn to host the in-laws – the last thing you need is to find bed bugs hitchhiking their way into your life and your home.
Bed bugs are adept at migrating to new places by sneaking into belongings, clothes and travel cases, so it’s quite easy for visitors to inadvertently bring these uninvited guests with them. At one time bed bugs were considered just an issue for hospitality businesses, but they have now been discovered in libraries, on public transport, aircraft and in retail stores – locations where people visit and remain long enough for them to hitch a ride.
As adult bed bugs are only the size of an apple pip, quick moving and typically nocturnal it’s easy to overlook them. Bed bugs are brown to reddish-brown in colour but the young nymphs can be much lighter. They are also very hardy insects, as adults can survive at least five months without a blood feed, whilst younger nymphs can live a couple of months, giving them quite an advantage when hitchhiking and waiting for an unsuspecting meal.
However, by following a few simple steps you can help to reduce the risk of inadvertently bringing bed bugs into your property or someone else’s, over the festive period.
How to avoid bed bug problems when travelling
- Avoid putting your suitcases on the bed or on upholstered furniture, instead place them in bath or shower cubicle until you’ve checked the room for bed bug signs.
- Hang clothes in wardrobes rather than placing them in draws.
- Check bed linen and mattresses (especially along seams) for small, dark blood spots.
- Check headboard, bedside tables and lamps for signs of bed bugs.
- Check suitcases carefully when you return home and store cases in the garage between trips.
What to check for when you have overnight guests
- If your kids are away at University or college and coming home for the festive season, get them to check their belongings before travelling home, especially if there has been a bed bug problem in their halls of residence or shared rented accommodation.
- Double check guest rooms carefully after they have departed in case they inadvertently brought unwanted visitors.
- Although checking the bed and bedding are the first place to start, bed bugs can hide and breed in other areas close by, such as the bed frame, headboard crevices and mattress seams. They can also hide further afield in bedside cabinets, drawers, gaps in wooden floors, skirting boards and even inside electrical sockets and fittings.
Spotting the signs of bed bugs
- Small dark blood spots on bedding are called ‘faecal pellets’ and are produced from excess blood directly after bed bugs have fed.
- Dark, smear stains on mattress or surrounding areas such as bed frames and headboards indicate bed bug excreta.
- If the infestation developed sometime ago there can be an unpleasant sickly sweet odour.
- Although small (4 – 5 mm long) it is possible to spot live adult bed bugs and their shed skins.
- Bed bugs eggs are white with a pearly sheen and found clustered together, but are very small and difficult to see with the naked eye.
- Unexplained bites or welts that seem to appear overnight, especially if they are located close to blood vessels near the skins surface on areas such as neck, hands, arms or legs.
Bed bug bites
Bed bug bites are unlikely to wake you, as bed bugs inject an anesthetic whilst drawing blood from the host. In general, most people will respond to a bed bug bite slightly worse than to a mosquito bite, but some individual’s maybe more sensitive and have a stronger reaction that can cause an irritating rash, which may become infected if constantly scratched.
If you do discover bed bugs have paid you a surprise visit over the festive season, high levels of hygiene, deep cleaning and the use of a DIY bed bug spray will help to eliminate most bed bugs. If you’ve taken all the necessary bed bug prevention steps and have not achieved success with DIY bed bug treatments, your next step should be to contact a pest control professional.