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Healthy Outlook

Travel Precautions Can Minimize Bed Bug Risk

By Tanya Drlik

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The next time you book a hotel room, you might consider shopping for one that includes an extra-spacious bathtub.

It may sound odd, but my advice could spare you from a six-legged souvenir that is spreading rapidly across the United States.

Bed bugs are becoming more and more prevalent around the world and in Contra Costa County. I field several phone calls a week from people wondering where they came from and how to get rid of them. Unfortunately, for a confirmed case of bed bugs, there is no simple remedy. A professional exterminator with experience in treating bed bugs is the best answer.

Those who travel frequently are most at risk of picking up bed bugs, as are those who live where people often come and go, such as apartment buildings. People associate them with uncleanliness, but bed bugs can infest just about anywhere there are humans, clean or dirty.

These insects typically arrive hidden in items brought into the home, such as used furniture, used mattresses, backpacks, purses or luggage, and quickly move into the home's nooks and crannies to hide and lay eggs. Favorite bed bug hangouts include baseboards, cabinetry and furniture near where people sleep, especially bed frames, mattresses and box springs.

Although bed bugs feed on human blood, they do not transmit any diseases. Their bites can swell and itch, but not everyone reacts to being bitten. Contrary to popular opinion, no one, not even a doctor, can tell by looking at a bite whether or not it comes from a bed bug.

When you travel, a few precautions can help minimize the risk of acquiring these pests. Bed bug infestations are becoming more common in hotels, from the cheapest motel to the priciest resort, so take the time to inspect your room and alert the management if you find anything suspicious.

The bathtub (when dry) might be the safest place to keep your luggage if you're worried about bedbugs. That's because they can't fly or jump, and the smooth tub surface is impossible for them to climb. Also, check out the bed. Don't be shy about pulling back the linens and inspecting the mattress and box spring, particularly around the seams.

You are looking for dark spots and stains, shed skins, or live bugs. What do bedbugs look like? There are plenty of pictures on the internet. Adults have flattened oval bodies, about 3/16 of an inch in length, and reddish brown. Immature bugs resemble adults but are smaller and lighter in color.

Even if you see no signs of bugs, you might consider keeping things that cannot be laundered, such as books, toiletries or electronics, off the bed. When I travel I keep my things in sealable zip-top bags. Plastic trash bags are also handy for dirty laundry.

Putting your clothes in the hotel dresser, on the other hand, could increase your chances of picking up hitchhikers.

When you get home, it's always a good idea to unpack in the garage or outside, launder everything you brought, and dry it on high for at least 30 minutes – that should kill any bugs or eggs.

And remember, the more you kept sealed on your trip, the less you need to worry when you get home.

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Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at For more health information, go to
About the Author

Tanya Drlik is the Integrated Pest Management Coordinator for Contra Costa Hazardous Materials Programs.