As much as we all love to travel, staying in unfamiliar places carries the risk of bringing home a hard-to-shake hitchhiker: bed bugs. Since the 1990s, bed bugs have made a resurgence in the United States. Motels, hotels (even high-end ones), camps, and hostels can expose you to these sneaky little bloodsuckers. They’re notorious for stowing away in luggage or clothing.

Here is an essential guide to avoiding and controlling bed bugs in Virginia Beach.

Prevention

Dr. Dini Miller
Dr. Dini Miller

Hands-down, the best way to deal with bed bugs is to avoid them in the first place. Virginia Cooperative Extension specialist Dr. Dini Miller is an entomologist who focuses on urban pest management.

She advises leaving your luggage just inside the door of a hotel room. “Inspect your bag first, because after traveling with other bags, you could be the one carrying bed bugs in.” Then inspect your room for signs of bed bugs, starting with the mattress.

The bugs are excellent at hiding, so look for black flecks (feces) in the mattress seams. Don’t bring home rugs or used furniture unless you’re certain they’re free of bed bugs.

Early Detection

Bed bugs are small, brown bugs with flat bodies that become round after they feed, and they feed exclusively on blood. The adults are about the size of an apple seed. They can fit into very tight spaces and are experts at concealing themselves. If you suspect you may have picked up some bed bugs while traveling, the first thing you should do is treat your luggage and everything inside.

If possible, unpack your luggage in the yard, away from your home. Don’t worry about your lawn; bedbugs can’t establish in the grass and migrate inside.

Detecting an Infestation

Several telltale signs will reveal an infestation in your home, beginning with itchy bites that you wake up with in the morning. You may notice blood stains on your bedding, or dark spots of bed bug feces on bed frames, sheets, and mattresses.

If you suspect a bed bug problem, leave no bedding unturned. Remove and examine every nook and cranny of your mattress and boxspring, including where the fabric is stapled to the wood frame. Anything close to the bed can also harbor bed bugs: books, radios, electrical outlets.

Look for them in every crevice and nook with a bright flashlight. Miller says seeing and identifying live bugs is the most obvious indicator of a bed bug problem.

DIY Treating Mild Bed Bug Activity

Having a few bed bugs in your luggage is one thing, which you can treat quickly if caught early. In the case of an infestation, hire professionals immediately.

Decluttering and Cleaning

With an infestation, the first step is to remove all clutter and to clean every surface in your home from top to bottom. Minimizing hiding places is the key to creating an inhospitable environment for them. Vacuum your bed and the surrounding area – after scrubbing the mattress seams with a stiff brush to dislodge any stowaways. After vacuuming, place the vacuum cleaner bag into a plastic bag and dispose of it in your garbage bin at the curb.

Treat Infected Items With Heat

Bed bugs cannot survive temperatures higher than 122 degrees Fahrenheit, so toss any exposed clothing or bedding into a clothes dryer at a high-temperature setting for 30 minutes. You may want to wash them in hot water first.

Further DIY Measures

Put toiletries and other items that can’t go in the dryer into sealed bags and place them in the freezer. This will effectively kill bed bugs at any stage of their life cycle. Specialized sealed bags that encase an entire mattress are designed to prevent any surviving bugs from escaping. They’ll also prevent reinfection. Most people choose to discard their boxsprings rather than attempt to treat them. Just make sure you leave a sign on the discarded box spring, so no one picks it up and takes it into their home.

What Not to Do

Spraying insecticides can be dangerous and is best left to pest care professionals. Bug bombs are also ineffective. These products generally pose more danger to you than the bed bugs, and they won’t prevent bed bug bites.

When to Call a Professional

Bed bugs infest a bed frame
Bed bugs infest a box spring. Credit: Louento.pix, CC by ND 2.0.

Bed bug treatment is incredibly difficult to do on your own. The critters are tough to locate and even tougher to kill. What’s worse, they can live without feeding for several months, so vigilance is necessary to get rid of them. It’s often too complicated for DIY pest control.

This is why pest management professionals exist. A pro will assess the situation and determine if they need to apply a whole room heat treatment. They may also opt for crack and crevice treatments, and other types of insecticidal applications.

“Bed bugs are going to be with us for a long time,” says Miller. “Don’t restrict your travel or your life simply because you might run into bedbugs, especially when it is so easy to avoid them.”

She encourages you to be aware of their existence, inspect your belongings, and take measures to prevent them from becoming pests in your Virginia Beach home.

Dr. Dini Miller is a professor of entomology at Virginia Tech, and an Urban Pest Management specialist for the state of Virginia. Since 2004, Dr. Miller’s primary focus has been on integrated pest management methods for the treatment of bed bug infestations.

Main image credit: CDC/ Harvard University, Dr. Gary Alpert; Dr. Harold Harlan; Richard Pollack. Photo Credit: Piotr Naskrecki