Bedbugs Can Be Anywhere, Not Just Paris

Beating Back Bedbugs

October 18, 2023 - A bedbug infestation in Paris has made headlines, but bedbugs can be anywhere, anytime. Here are a few simple precautions for Flight Attendants to help prevent the nightmare from ever happening.

If detected early, bed bug control is inexpensive, but detecting an early infestation is difficult for many reasons. Bed bugs may be less than two millimeters in length; are translucent when not gorged with blood; sometimes go a week or more between meals; hitch-hike on luggage and furniture moving easily between hotel rooms, apartments and buildings; hide in cracks and crevices; and feed at night with a painless bite when humans are asleep. In addition, some bite victims never react at all while others may not see symptoms until several weeks later, leading them to suspect other exposures such as mosquitoes, poison ivy, scabies or allergens.

Bed bugs also exact a heavy emotional and psychological toll. Victims may endure feelings of embarrassment, difficulty sleeping, nightmares, stress and fatigue, disfiguring scars, and secondary infections from scratching bites. The financial costs to treat these conditions can be prohibitive. 

Preparing for a Trip

  • Pack disposable latex gloves and a flashlight to search nooks, crannies and other dark areas.
  • Choose luggage with smooth, hard surfaces. (Fabric, pockets, seams and flaps provide climbing surfaces and hiding places.)
  • Hot water laundering and/or normal dryer heat should kill bugs and their eggs. For items that can’t take the heat, isolate in ziplock (or equivalent) bags. Laptops can go in two gallon bags.

At the Hotel

  • Keep luggage away from sleep and rest areas; glass tables and luggage racks are best. Plastic is better than wood.
  • Inspect mattress and box spring for tarlike splotches (excreted blood*) and skin fragments shed when bugs go from one stage to the next. Concentrate on the four mattress corners, corner guards, piping, seams and labels/tags.
  • Inspect headboard but don’t remove. Doing so risks injury or property damage. Check all nooks and crevices for excreta.*
  • Notify hotel staff if you are bitten or find bugs. Take photos and place bugs in ziplock bag as evidence. Show bugs to hotel staff but do not give them away. They may prove important in the future.
  • Remove yourself and your belongings from the infested room immediately!
  • If changing hotels is not an option, move to a room as far from the infested room as possible.
  • If you are bitten, notify your supervisor, file reports to management and your union, and see your own physician or the company doctor in accordance with airline policy.

Returning Home from a Trip

  • A fertilized female or at least one male and one female, must be present for an infestation to occur.
  • Unpack luggage outside the home or on a garage floor to separate and inspect. Launder washables
    in hot water and dry at low heat or higher.
  • Portable heating units to bake luggage at sustained temperatures above 120°F are available for $300 or more; the assurance that all bugs and eggs are killed is worth it to some.

Eliminating Infestations

  • 100% elimination in a single pest control visit is unlikely. Bug free and bite free for 60 consecutive days is a good sign you’re in the clear.
  • Many current pesticides are not as effective or as strong as they used to be. Liquids and aerosols are effective when bugs are sprayed directly but the effectiveness of their residues is questionable.
  • Steam destroys all stages of the eggs and penetrates 6 cm into cracks and 2 cm into fabric.
  • Escape-proof, bite-proof mattress encasements can salvage infested bedding by trapping bugs where they will eventually starve. A secure encasement has small zipper teeth and a seal at the end stop to keep the smallest bugs in.

*Spotting from excreted blood (excreta) can be confused with paint or stain spatter. Wiping with a wet cloth will dissolve and smear bed bug excreta and leave paint or stain spots unaffected.

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