Okay, I’ll admit it: I’ve never seen a bedbug. I couldn’t pick one out in a lineup. My family used DDT when I was growing up. It killed everything—it was a “broad spectrum insecticide”—but it was eventually banned as a toxic chemical. What followed was a variety of pesticides that targeted only certain bugs.
Bedbugs are remarkably resourceful. They’re good travelers and can survive for nearly a year without eating. Following DDT’s demise, new pesticides don’t particularly faze them. Human blood is their favorite meal. Pre-dawn is when they like to eat. Consequently, bedbugs prefer to dine where humans are most likely to be found at that hour: in bed. Beds that frequently substitute humans are the most susceptible to infestation. Guests in some of the world’s finest hotels have brought bedbugs with them, in their clothing, on their person, or in their luggage. Following check-out, they provide ready transport to other hotels or their own homes.
In the past month, four of my friends have returned from business trips with significant bedbug tracks on their arms or legs. Bedbug bites are nasty red welts that usually appear in jagged track lines; they itch like crazy, and scratching them can lead to serious infection. They can be treated effectively with cortisone, ammonia (bug-bite stick applicators) or with oral antihistamines.
Bedbugs are about a quarter-inch long, medium to dark in color. They love to hide in the seams of beds, the lining of suitcases and clothing, which can be washed in a detergent using hot water.
Here are a couple of tips: Keep your suitcase off the floor and zipped in your hotel room. Visibly check for the presence of bed bugs on the mattress. Take action when you have any suspicion that you may have been bitten. Exterminators are successfully using extreme heat to “fry” the little critters. Final word: Be cautious, but know that the current situation is an epidemic. Do what you can to keep them from spreading. And don’t be embarrassed if you’re a victim: You are in very good company.