You've just checked into a great hotel. The room is clean. The bathroom sparkles. And the comfy bed beckons your exhausted body. Wait! Is that a bed bug crawling on the sheets?
Flat and oval in shape much like a small lentil, bed bugs are just a 1/4-inch in diameter. They are brown, but once they have fed on blood, they take on a rusty mahogany color. Thanks to international travel, bed bugs have made a resurgence in the United States where exterminators had largely wiped them out. If you sleep in a bed that is infested with them, they'll suck your blood--their food supply--and you'll wake up with itchy, red, swollen welts on your body. The itching can last for weeks. Although some people do have severe allergic reactions to bed bugs, they are not considered a health threat since they don't spread diseases.
Before slipping in between those hotel bed sheets, do a quick and easy check for bed bugs. MSNBC offers these five steps:
Pull off the bottom, fitted sheet and check the mattress both by looking at it with your eyes and feeling the upper and lower seams with your fingers. Oddly, bed bugs often hide on the mattress tag, so check it, too.
If you can, remove and examine the headboard. Even if you can't go that far in your inspection, look on the headboard for bed bugs' excrement, which will be tiny black spots that are smaller than poppy seeds and resemble pepper. Also, check for translucent light brown skins, as well as live bugs.
Open the drawers of the bedside table and look for signs of bed bugs there and along the wall of the bed, especially spots that are less likely to be disturbed by the cleaning staff and other guests. You can even check the back of picture frames for blood stains and fecal marks.
If you see white powder in the drawers or by the headboard, it could mean the room was recently exterminated for bed bugs.
If you do find live bed bugs or signs of their excrement, immediately inform the hotel management and request another room. But don't just assume it's free of bed bugs. Be sure to check it, too!
What about your luggage? Never place your suitcases on a hotel bed. Keep them off the floor, too. Unpack by placing your suitcase on a luggage stand. Why? If the room is infested with bed bugs, you don't want to bring any home with you. If you think bed bugs have gotten into your clothing, you can kill them by laundering cloth items in hot water and detergent followed by drying on a low heat for at least 20 minutes or with standard dry cleaning. Then seal those items inside a plastic bag to help prevent more bed bugs from getting into those items later.
If you do bring bed bugs home with you, the extermination process is difficult at best and may involve throwing out not only your bedding, but also your furniture! A few minutes of checking the hotel bed can save you from all that.