11 a.m., March 16, 2011----With spring break approaching, the University of Delaware is providing students information to help them avoid transporting bed bugs from travel locations back to campus.
According to Rich Noonan, manager of Pest Control Services-Facilities, bed bugs are small reddish-brown oval shaped insects so named because they like to hide in beds, where the stealthy bloodsuckers are close to human prey.
And if they find you while traveling, they might decide to tag along on the return trip to Newark.
“There are a number of precautions you can take when traveling to minimize the possibility of bed bugs hitching a ride home with you,” Noonan said. “Two things to keep uppermost in your mind are that bed bugs can be anywhere you travel or visit and 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.'”
Check out accommodations
Noonan recommended that if planning to spend time in a hotel or motel during break that students check out their accommodations beforehand.
There are a number of websites that review hotels, including reports of any bed bug infestations, he said, noting that as with any Internet ratings, “don't take what you see as gospel, but it is a good starting point. And don't hesitate to call the hotel and ask point blank if and when they've experienced any problems with bed bugs in the past and if there are any current problems.”
If possible, Noonan said to use hard-sided luggage with latches that close tight as opposed to fabric luggage with zippers. Additionally, seal your clothes and shoes inside airtight bags. A number of companies sell “bed bug proof” bags. Just be certain that the bags are airtight.
When you arrive, Noonan said to place luggage on a rack -- inspecting it first, of course. Putting luggage on the bed, chair, sofa or carpet is not a good idea. If there is no luggage rack, he recommends placing the luggage on a hard, light colored surface, making sure the surface is clear of bed bugs. “You might even consider storing your luggage in the bath tub,” he said.
Inspect your room
Before settling in, Noonan recommends inspecting your room -- pull off the bedding and check the mattress and box spring for evidence of bed bugs (eggs, fecal stains, molted exoskeletons and the actual bugs themselves). Pay particular attention to areas around the seams, and check all around the headboard and frame, drapes, couch and chair cushions, cracks and crevices in furniture, cracks near wall trim, behind picture frames, mirrors, etc.
“You should have a flashlight for your inspection,” he said, adding, “Yyou can buy one of those small LED flashlights for three or four dollars and keep it in your suitcase.”
“If your inspection does not indicate the presence of bed bugs, there's a fair chance you'll be OK. But since the little bloodsuckers are very good at hiding, there are no guarantees,” Noonan said. “ If your inspection does indicate a possible presence, vacate the room immediately and notify the hotel's management.”
When checking out, be sure to check your luggage, clothes, shoes and any bags, Noonan said. This is vital “even if you saw no signs of bed bugs and had no bed bug bite symptoms,” he said, noting that some people are asymptomatic and others may not show any symptoms for up to nine days.
Upon your return
When you return to your apartment of residence hall, Noonan said to be sure to unpack carefully.
“Ideally you should unpack all the clothing from your trip straight from your suitcase into the washing machine to be laundered and dried on the HOT setting,” he said.
If that is not possible, or if you have articles of clothing that must be dry-cleaned, unpack your luggage on a hard, light-colored surface so you can spot any bed bugs that might be present. Unpack directly into a bag that you can then seal to prevent any bed bugs from escaping.
There are dissolvable laundry bags that you toss right into the washer along with your clothes, he said, and if you don't have these available you can use regular trash bags. “Just be sure that after you empty the bags that you take them outside immediately and place them in the trash. If you do bag your clothes, make sure you wash/dry clean them as quickly as possible.”
After your luggage has been emptied, Noonan said it should be thoroughly vacuumed using a vacuum cleaner with a hose and a disposable dust bag. When the vacuuming is completed, immediately remove the bag and dispose of it in the outside trash.
Vacuuming is a method of removing bed bugs from the luggage. If you want to kill bed bugs that might be present in your luggage, there are three basic methods of treatment:
- Freeze them. If you can, store you luggage at 0 degrees Fahrenheit for 48 hours or at 20 degrees for five days.
- Heat them. A constant temperature of at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit for a minimum of 1.5 hours will kill the bed bugs and their eggs. Specially designed portable heating units have been developed for this purpose, but they are quite expensive.
- Insecticides. There are a quite a number of insecticides that are labeled as being effective against bed bugs.
- All three methods listed above will get the job done. Practicality and cost is another matter.
Noonan offered a few other general precautions, saying it is unwise to re-use someone else's mattress or box spring and that any used furniture -- especially upholstered furniture -- should be thoroughly inspected for bed bugs.
Also, launder or dry clean any used clothing before bringing it to your living space.
There is additional information on bed bugs available on the Facilities website under Custodial and Pest Control Services.