“I don’t have bedbugs, Kenneth. I went to Princeton.”~ Jack Donaghy, Character on NBC’s show “30 Rock”

You probably have heard on the news about the problem with bedbugs in hotels. Nasty little things. They come out at night and suck your blood while you sleep.

I like vampire stories as much as the next guy, but when it comes to my blood I am very possessive. I don’t want to share it with a bug. I assume you feel the same.

You can learn more than you’d ever want to know about these creatures at the government’s CDC website here, but suffice to say that it is worth an ounce of prevention to cope with them beforehand, particularly this holiday travel season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency have issued a joint statement on bedbugs, including emotional reactions to them: “Bedbugs may also affect the mental health of people living in infested homes. Reported effects include anxiety, insomnia and systemic reactions.”

Bedbugs are small, winged, reddish-brown insects that belong to the family Cimicidae and are about 5-7mm in size. Despite having wings, they can’t fly. They can live for months without feeding, but when they do chow down they typically have what’s been called a ‘breakfast-lunch-dinner’ pattern of multiple feedings. They draw blood and leave raised bumps on the skin when they’re done. You don’t have to treat them, but if there are enough bites it can lead to itching and widespread skin eruptions. In that case you’d want to have a dermatologist look at it.

Bedbugs literally are bloodsuckers: Within five minutes they can suck in as much blood as their own body weight, and that can last them as long as six months.

That’s the bad news. If there is good news it seems that they do not transmit diseases.

There are two main reasons bedbug infestations are on the rise in the U.S. First, restrictions on the use of the pesticide DDT has caused a resurgence. DDT was keeping them at bay, but also was found to disrupt the human endocrine system (responsible for releasing various hormones into the bloodstream).

American biologist Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring in 1962. Her emphasis was on the rampant use of DDT and pointed out that we didn’t know its potential impact on the environment or our health. DDT thereafter was identified as harmful to fish and birds and possibly causing cancer in humans. Many see Silent Spring as the impetus for the environmental movement.

While exterminators have weapons other than DDT available, it has been increasingly difficult to stay ahead of bedbugs’ proliferation. This also may be because of the increase in immigration and travel to other parts of the world where DDT is not used.

These mini-vampires are drawn to you by the carbon dioxide you emit as you breathe while sleeping. That’s why they congregate in mattresses, box springs, and bed frames. But they can hang out near the bed as well — in curtains, dresser drawer corners and wallpaper crevices. Like some people, they also may have a fondness for wicker furniture.

The carbon dioxide that creates a bedbug problem may actually be part of the solution. A Rutgers professor, Dr. Changlu Wang, has created a very interesting low-cost home remedy that uses dry ice and its emission of carbon dioxide as a dinner bell trap for the unwanted guests.

This won’t help us when we are on the road, unfortunately. For information on that I drew on the advice of an expert, Anthony Del Priore, owner of Statewide Exterminating LLC, here in New Jersey. He said the problem with bedbugs accelerated in 2003, when pest control companies started a new program called IPM — Integrated Pest Management. “This meant less chemicals in less areas. Use granular bait for ants compared to spraying, or if you did spray just spray that one area that had the problem not the whole house. By changing to this system there was less indirect kills of other insects, like fleas, bedbugs, spiders, etc., which led us to this position today.”

7 Tips to Keep The Bedbugs at Bay

Until we figure it all out here is his advice when traveling:

  • Prepare before you leave and don’t overpack. You will need to wash everything when you return from your trip. Nothing goes back into your closet unwashed.
  • Before you accept your room remove the sheets and pillowcases and check the mattress and box spring for black stains along the piping of each. Blood dries black. If you see stains request a new room and repeat your inspection there.
  • If the bed is movable, move it away from the wall and check behind the headboard and baseboard for stains or insects.
  • If the bed is attached to the wall check the corners of the frame and headboard. Remember these insects are drawn by carbon dioxide, so check thoroughly near the headboard.
  • If you are traveling for fewer than three nights keep your clothes in your suitcase and as far away from the bed as possible, preferably near the door to your hotel room. Do not put the bag on chairs or couches. Also, do not lay out or keep clothes on the bed or other furniture in the room.
  • Bring an extra plastic bag with a drawstring for all dirty laundry (or if you’ve forgotten one most hotels have a plastic dry cleaning bag you can buy.) Place your dirty laundry in the bag and keep it closed and away from the furniture.
  • When you return, remember that bedbugs can get into your luggage — so use travel bags that can be washed after each trip. If your suitcase can’t be washed, empty and wash the clothes and store the suitcase in the attic (or as far away from the bedrooms as possible.) Never store suitcases in bedrooms. Remember bedbugs can live a long time between meals so be sure to leave the bags fallow for a while.

So when you travel, sleep tight, and, well, you know the rest.