Summer travelers beware: bedbugs on the rise

Writer(s): 
Susan Jones, a CFAES entomologist, works to help consumers prevent bedbug infestations

Summer’s here and the time is right for … bedbugs?

When you pack your bags for the Fourth of July or other vacations, make sure you don’t bring back bedbugs on your return trip.

With the busy summer travel season here, the time is ripe for bedbugs to hitch a ride on your luggage, purse, clothes, and in some cases, even your shoes, said Susan Jones, an entomologist with the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) at The Ohio State University.

“Even though bedbugs haven’t been in the news as much as they’ve been before, they’re an even bigger problem than they’ve been in the past in Ohio,” she said. “For example, in Franklin County, bedbug treatments performed by licensed pest management companies doubled in number in 2016 as compared to 2011.”

In fact, Ohio has four major metropolitan areas ranked on this year’s list of top 50 cities with bedbug infestations, according to Orkin, a nationwide pest control company. Columbus ranks No. 5. Cincinnati comes in at No. 8. Cleveland-Akron-Canton holds the 13th spot, and Dayton ranks No. 32, according to the list.

That’s because bedbugs, which are strictly indoor pests, can reproduce quickly, travel very well, and can survive for many months, occasionally even a year, without feeding, Jones said. Add to that that Ohio’s many large cities are in close proximity and are linked by major interstate highways, and you have a large bedbug population that can be easily spread, she said.

“These bugs can hitchhike onto a host’s items or travel on their own,” Jones said. “They can slip under doors in multifamily dwellings and travel down the hall to other units. They can climb into your suitcase, into your clothes, and when you get home, you’ve inadvertently introduced bedbugs into your residence.”

Also, contrary to popular belief, bedbugs—which are small, blood-sucking insects that feed on humans, and in some cases, pets—aren’t relegated to beds alone.

They can also be hidden behind baseboards and ceiling moldings, in wall voids, and in cracks and crevices in furniture such as dressers and nightstands, among other locations, Jones said.

“Bedbugs prefer surfaces that are fabric, paper, and wood,” she said. “But they can also be found on plastic and metal objects. However, they can’t navigate a porcelain surface.”

Jones, in her work as a CFAES entomologist, focuses on bedbugs and how consumers can prevent infestations. For those who already have them, Jones works to help consumers learn how to eradicate them.

She offers these tips for travelers to reduce their likelihood of returning home with hitchhiking bedbugs:

  • Check for bedbugs at hotels and refuse to stay in a room showing signs of bedbugs.
  • Store luggage on a luggage rack after you’ve made sure it has no telltale signs of bedbugs. You can also store it in the bathtub to prevent hitchhikers.
  • If you purchase secondhand clothing, keep it tightly bagged until you can wash and dry it.

If you have an infestation, Jones offers these tips to help alleviate the problem:

  • Treat as soon as you discover bedbugs, before their population increases or spreads to other homes.
  • Don’t throw away your furniture unless absolutely necessary; it can almost always be treated.
  • If you have no choice but to discard furniture, make sure to wrap it securely in plastic sheeting before moving it outdoors. Prior to wrapping it, be sure to damage or destroy the item, and also label it “Bedbugs” so that others don’t reuse it.
  • Don’t give away or share items with others until you have treated your infestation.
  • Decontaminate your clothing and other washable items by washing them and then drying them for 30 minutes on medium to high heat.
  • Items that can’t be washed but can survive the clothes dryer, such as shoes or stuffed animals, can be decontaminated in the dryer for 30 minutes on medium to high heat.
  • Check your shoes before leaving your house so you don’t track bedbugs around.
  • Don’t store your backpack, briefcase, or similar items near your bed, and leave them in a sealed plastic bag or plastic tote when you go to work or school.
  • At school, make sure children don’t intermingle their coats, backpacks, etc. These items should stay in individual cubbies, bins, or other spaces.

“Prevention is key,” Jones said. “It takes a short amount of time to do an inspection if you know what you are looking for.”

“The biggest myth out there is that bedbugs are only in your bed, but they can be almost anywhere: in the curtain rods, in the smoke detector, in floor cracks, in ceilings, in the walls.”

Jones said it’s important to know what to look for and to always inspect your surroundings when traveling. She has posted photos of bedbugs and their telltale signs at u.osu.edu/bedbugs.

And most importantly, “refuse to stay anywhere you see bedbugs,” she said.

“It can cost thousands of dollars to rid your home of bedbugs,” Jones said. “And if you do have an infestation, the earlier you start treatment, typically the less expensive it will be.”

For more information contact: 
Tracy Turner
614-688-1067