Vacation time is near, don’t make bed bugs your souvenir!

Research conducted at Purdue University and published in the Journal of Economic Entomology found that bed bugs are developing resistance to two insecticides commonly used today by pest control companies. Using bed bug samples from 10 states including New Jersey, they found that 25% of the bugs were still alive seven days after exposure to the chemicals.  This is in addition to the significant resistance bed bugs have to previously used chemicals.



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While bed bugs don’t cause or carry disease causing bacteria like ticks do, they are still parasites that feed on blood – your blood!  Bed bug bites do cause redness, itching and in some people, serious allergic reactions.

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A little bed bug history for those ‘itching’ to know – around the middle of the 1940’s, bed bugs were pretty much eliminated with the use of DDT and Malathion. But, in the late 1990’s they started to reappear, in hotels world-wide. Increased traveling, bug resistance to the chemicals used to control them and changes in hotel pest control practices, allowed bed bugs to make a roaring come back. 

Here’s the thing about these little critters – they are stealth hitchhikers!  We pick them up in hotel rooms and bring them home without knowing it. That’s because they hide during the day and come out at night to feed – on us- while we’re asleep.

 According to the University of Kentucky Entomology Extension, here’s where they hide during the day:

Seams, folds and crevices of mattresses, box springs




Box springs give them many places to hide, especially along the upper seams and underneath, where the bottom edge of the box rests on the frame.


Bed frames and headboards
        Cracks and crevices of wooden bed frames. Bed bugs like wood and fabric more than
         metal or plastic.

Wooden support slats, screw holes, knots and other places they can crawl into are also common hiding places.

Headboards attached to walls, as common in hotels, provide hiding areas behind them and are often the first place bed bugs become established.

Items stored under beds provide great hiding places. 

Upholstered furniture.

 Chairs, recliners and sofas especially if used for sleeping, are typically the next most   likely area for bed bugs to hide. They hide in the seams, skirts or in fabric folds.



Nightstands and dressers
          Bugs will hide in cracks, corners, and recesses.

Other common bed bug hiding places include:
            along and under the edge of wall-to-wall carpeting, especially behind beds and sofas          
            cracks in wood molding; ceiling-wall junctures
            behind wall-mounted pictures, mirrors, outlets and switch plates
            under loose wallpaper
            in closet clutter
            inside clocks, phones, televisions and smoke detectors.

What to look for when traveling:

  • Rusty or reddish stains on bed sheets or mattresses
  • Dark spots (about this size: •), which are bed bug excrement
               and bleed stains on the fabric like a marker would make.
  • Tiny, pale yellow skins that are eggs and nymph shells.
  • Live bed bugs.
    (For more pictures of the above go to:

Itchy yet?

Here are some tips to reduce the chances of bringing them home with you from your vacation:  

  1. When you first enter your hotel room - Put your luggage in the bathroom.
  2. Unmake the bed. Check the mattress and lift the box spring for signs of bugs.
  3. Leave your luggage on the luggage rack (after checking the straps) or a hard surface, not on the carpeted floor.

Bring large plastic bags and put your luggage in them for extra safety.

  1. When you get home, make sure you wash and then dry all of your travel clothes in a hot dryer for 30 minutes to kill any bugs that came home with you.
  2. Store your luggage in the garage or a hot attic (120o) to kill bugs that may be hiding. (Consumer Reports,

The Environmental Protection Agency offers these other tips to prevent infestation:

  • Check secondhand furniture, beds, and couches for any signs of bed bug infestation before bringing them home.
  • Use a protective cover that encases mattresses and box springs and eliminates many hiding spots. The light color of the encasement makes bed bugs easier to see. Be sure to purchase a high quality encasement that will resist tearing and check the encasement regularly for holes.
  • Reduce clutter in your home to reduce hiding places for bed bugs.
  • Vacuum frequently to remove any successful hitchhikers and empty the canister or change the bag afterwards.
  • Be vigilant when using shared laundry facilities. Transport items to be washed in plastic bags (if you have an active infestation, use a new bag for the journey home). Remove from dryer directly into bag and fold at home. (A dryer on high heat can kill bed bugs.)
  • If you live in a multi-family home, try to isolate your unit by:
    • Installing door sweeps on the bottom of doors to discourage movement into hallways.
    • Sealing cracks and crevices around baseboards, light sockets, etc., to discourage movement through wall voids.

If you find bed bugs in your home, call a pest control company. They are extremely difficult to eradicate yourself.

For more information:

University of Kentucky – Entomology Extension

 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
 Bedbug FAQs

Environmental Protection Agency
Protecting your home from bedbugs

Consumer Reports
How to check for bed bugs in a hotel

Joanna Hayden, PhD, CHES is the principal of Associates for Health Education and Behavior, LLC, in Sparta, a practice focused on improving health through education. Her office offers individual and group health education, and individual health behavior change guidance.  For more information please see  To contact Dr. Hayden, email her

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

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