Bed bugs are brown and creepy. Could you spot one in your hotel room? A new study reveals most people are freaked out by bed bugs, but only about 35% could identify one.
In a new study published in American Entomologist, scientists from the University of Kentucky examined how people respond to the growing tide of bed bugs in homes, apartments — and sometimes their hotel room.
As the economy picks up, leisure and business travel is increasing. According to the US Travel Association, almost 3% of the national gross domestic product (GDP) comes from travel, and one in nine jobs in the US is in travel and tourism. The US has about five million guest rooms, and guests occupy about 64% of those rooms each night. When people are on the go, hotels are often a preferred place to stay.
Cimex lectularius, or bed bugs, are about the size of an apple seed as adults. Flat and brownish, they move fast when the lights go on, hiding in crevices in beds, cracks in walls, under carpet — wherever they can fit to wait for their nocturnal blood meal.
This research team was looking for on-the-ground understanding and perspectives on bed bugs from people who stay in hotels and motels for leisure and business travel. The study analyzed the results of a 64-question survey conducted through a market research firm. Participants included 1,298 leisure travelers and 790 business travelers (those who traveled at least seven nights during the year) from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
According to the study, 75% of pest management professionals report working with infestations in motel and hotels. Bedbugs infest both inexpensive — and expensive — hotels, as they do not discriminate.
One of the primary findings of the study is that most people cannot tell the difference between a bed bug and a tick or termite.
Of leisure travelers, only 28% could identify the bed bug in this illustration, and only 35% of business travelers knew number 4 was the bed bug. In order, these common bugs are an ant, a termite, a louse, bed bug, and a tick.
Bed bugs are not known to transmit disease, but the creep factor with bugs drinking your blood at night is high. Plus, if you stay in a room with bed bugs, there is a possibility you will take them home with you. Although most travelers are disgusted by bed bugs, only about 34% check the room for bed bugs before flopping down on the bed and turning on the television.
Instead, most travelers check for a clean bathroom, whether the room smells, and whether there are clean sheets and towels.
Checking for bed bugs is a matter of hygiene. You and other visitors could suffer bites, plus you could help bed bugs spread by taking them to your next destination — or home. Here are solid tips on checking for bugs after checking-in to a hotel or other lodging:
- First stop — the bathtub: When you enter your room, place your luggage in the bathtub, a safe zone from bed bugs.
- Carry tools: A couple of things help when you look for bed bugs — a flashlight, and an old credit card (or a fake one that comes with credit card offers).
- Check the bed: Pull back the linens and mattress pad. Use the plastic card to check mattress seams all the way around the bed for bed bugs, fecal material, or eggs. Look at slats under the bed, check behind the headboard if you can. Pull back the mattress pad and examine the mattress pad and mattress for flecks or spots of brown-red bed bug feces or blood spots.
- Go over the luggage rack: Fold up the luggage rack to loosen the straps, use your flashlight to look for insects, or insect debris under the straps. If the rack is clean, you can retrieve your luggage from the tub and use the rack, or another hard-topped surface, like a desk, that you have thoroughly checked for bed bugs.
- Check the furniture, frames, and decor: Look behind picture frames, check curtains, lampshades, under lamps, under clocks, in drawer seams, and crevices. Take the drawers out, turn them over, and watch for scuttling bugs.
Bottom line — if it is within five to 20 feet of the bed, you should check it. That includes couches, under rugs, and beneath complimentary coffee tools and trays. Remember bed bugs go wherever people are or have been. While hotels are hot spots, so are theaters, taxi's, schools, hospitals, and dorms. With a mind for recycling, some people buy or pick up second-hand furniture, not realizing they are carrying bed bugs into their home.
Bed bugs can spread from person to person on clothing or upholstered surfaces. While they cannot fly, or jump like fleas, they can climb, shift, and travel on people in crowds.
If you find a bed bug in your hotel room, talk to the clerk about your options — can you get another room in a different part of the hotel that they've checked for bed bugs? Will they offer a discount? In the study, the two most likely actions taken by people who find bed bugs in their lodging are to ask for compensation and a room change, or they pack up and leave. Because finding suitable, affordable accommodation on very short notice is difficult; it may be to your advantage to work with the hotel.
Given the quick, negative impact of a bed bug report on social media, it is likely most hotels will work with you to salvage your experience. Remember bed bug populations are increasing and becoming resistant to pesticides. Know what to look for, and what to do, when you spot a bed bug.
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