The growing problem of bed bugs

By Heather Aspinall

Life cycle of the Bad Bug


Bed bugs are bloodsucking parasites that do not discriminate. They have been found in a wide range of places where people sleep – from five-star hotels, resorts and cruise ships, to dormitories, hospitals, homeless shelters and private homes, to buses, airplanes and overnight trains.

And they are no longer a problem of only developing countries.  Since the 1980s, this problem has become increasingly common in parts of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Since the preferred hangout of bed bugs is in sleeping areas where they can conveniently feed while people sleep, they are a particular problem for frequent travellers and people who share living and sleeping areas.

Bed bug are not known to transmit disease.  But they can cause significant inconvenience, anxiety, loss of property and expense.  While some people may have no reaction to the bite of a bed bug, others may notice raised welts, similar to mosquito bites, several days (sometimes as long as 14 days) after the actual bite.  Scratching an itchy bite may cause skin infection.   Very rarely, the bite may cause a severe allergic reaction which may require medical attention.

Know the bug

 They are small, broad and flat, wingless, reddish brown insects with an oval body and a small broad head. They range in size from about 1.5 mm to 10 mm long.  They shed their skin regularly and this provides a tell-tale sign of the presence.  Their tiny, white eggs are usually laid in cracks and crevices.

The preferred mode of travel for bed bugs is on objects, not on people.  Unlike other parasitic insects such as lice and ticks, bed bugs are usually carried by travellers in the seams of overnight bags, luggage, personal items and on clothing.   Their blood meal lasts for about 5 – 10 minutes, after which they hide in soft, dark places close to the sleeping area, as they cannot fly, jump or easily climb on smooth surfaces.

While travelling:

Check for signs of the live or dead bugs, their shedded skin, dark brown feces, blood spots or eggs.

  • Keep your travel bags and luggage away from beds and carpeted floors/rugs. Use a luggage rack, solid surface such as a dresser or the bath tub to store your luggage.  Check the seams of the luggage rack before use.
  • Check on, under and around the bed and sofas. Pull back the sheets and blanket and check the seams.  Check the pillows and mattress.
  • Check the hem and folds of curtains and the creases, crevices and folds of upholstered items and furniture.
  • Inspect the inside of the closet and the inside, top, sides, and back of drawers.
  • A sweet musty odor in a room may also indicate the presence of bed bugs.

If you find signs of the bugs, notify Guest Services and request to be moved to another room, preferably one that is located away from infested room.  Consider finding other accommodations,if another suitable room is not available.

 When you return home:

If you confirm or suspect an infestation:

Place your luggage and travel bags on a smooth light coloured hard surface and check carefully before bringing them into your home.

Check your clothing and personal items such as plush toys, hairbrushes, and make-up bags carefully.

Wash all clothing and fabric items in hot water, then dry them in the dryer using the hottest setting.  For dry-clean-only and small non-washable articles, throw them in a hot dryer for 30 minutes or longer.  Discard any items that cannot be washed, heated, or steam cleaned.

What if you are bitten?

 The best way to treat a bite is to clean the bite site with soap and water.  Avoid scratching the area to prevent infection.  Contact your health care provider. if an allergic reaction develops.

(Heather Aspinall is a communicable disease control specialist.)