Do Bed Bugs Travel on People?

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Bed bugs might attach themselves to clothing.
Bed bugs might attach themselves to clothing. (Image: jacket's detail image by Olga Shelego from <a href='http://www.fotolia.com'>Fotolia.com</a>)

When you think about the risks of traveling, injury, theft and illness usually come to mind. However, one risk that you might not consider is the possibility of picking up a bed bug infestation while away. Bed bugs don't travel directly on people's skin but they can attach themselves to clothing or hide in luggage. Once they have found a suitable place to hide, they will come out at night to feed on their host's blood while they sleep.

Identification

Bed bugs are small insects that live in dark cracks and crevices in your home. The adults are visible with the naked eye and are brown in color with a flat abdomen. As they hide away from light, they are most easily identifiable by their excrement, which will leave dark patches on mattresses and furnishings. They might live in the folds of a mattress, inside the mattress or inside furnishings. Usually, bed bugs can be found a few feet from the host they have been feeding on.

Causes

The most common cause of a bed bug infestation is traveling. You can pick them up in hotels, other people's homes and even airplanes. Dr. Stephen A. Kells and Jeff Hahn, from the University of Minnesota, explain that bed bugs are not like lice and will not travel on people's skin. They will, however, cling to clothing as well as hide in luggage and shoes. Bed bugs can also travel from one infected apartment or home to another in this way.

Prevention/Solution

Bed bugs are resilient creatures and hide in any crack or crevice they can find. Removing a bed bug infestation can be challenging but with patience and professional help, you can get rid of them. The best way to prevent a bed bug infestation is to check your hotel bed, as well as all luggage and clothing for adult bugs and excrement patches. They can also hide in the folds of rucksacks and shoes.

Considerations

If you do discover bed bugs in your luggage or clothing, you won't necessarily have to throw the items away. Michael F. Potter from the University of Kentucky recommends separating infected clothing from non-infected clothing and placing it in a plastic bag before laundering it at a minimum temperature of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. He says that beds can also be treated by professionals, although general vacuuming and household cleaning won't be enough to eradicate the bugs.

Expert Insight

Michael F. Potter, from the University of Kentucky, advises that traditional insect repellents are ineffective against bed bugs and won't prevent them from biting you or attaching to your clothing. They will feed on any exposed skin while their host is sleeping and any itching or redness caused by their bites is often mistakenly blamed on mosquitoes or fleas. However, Potter also says that unlike other parasites, bed bugs don't transmit diseases.

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