An adolescent bed bug, nearly full-grown.
As a child living in America, I grew up saying goodnight with the refrain, ‘Don’t Let the Bed Bugs Bite!’ As kids we thought it was cute. Everybody ‘knew’ there were no real bed bugs. They were like the monster that lives under your bed or in the closet; just childhood stories… right?
As an adult living and traveling in Asia, I came to know the real terror of these little demons. As Newt tells Ripley in the movie ‘Aliens’: ‘There really are monsters.’
In recent years an infestation of bed bugs has spread to New York. Bed bugs were eradicated in the USA decades ago, but international travellers have brought hitchhiking bugs from the developing world. The beasties crawl inside travellers’ bags and this way spread from hotel to hotel and continent to continent.
TV newscasters often comment on bed bug stories in disgust, saying how much they hate the creepy crawlies, comparing them to the roaches or ants in their boyfriend’s apartment. I assure you, these newscasters are fruity, clueless idiots who’ve never seen a bed bug in their life. Bed bugs are evil vermin spawned from all that is vile and horrific. Lock me in a tiny bus station toilet with a thousand roached but please don’t sentence me to another hotel room with a solitary bed bug!
Vietnam was the first place that I ever encountered bed bugs. The bugs can show up just about anywhere and in any country (as I recently found in Cambodia), but Vietnam's government-run hotel chains such as Saigontourist, OSC Vietnam, Vietsovpetro, and Petrovietnam (almost any pricey hotel with "Saigon" or "Petro" in their name), with their relatively low standards, are a real concern for the possibility of encountering the bugs. Once the bugs infest a hotel room, they are very difficult to eradicate and can turn a holiday in a government hotel into a real nightmare.
What do bed bugs look like?
Bed bugs are small. They look like a cross between a tiny beetle and a tick, but they are rust-colored, ranging from orange to red and shiny. Easy to see when they move, but small ones are very difficult to spot if they remain motionless. They range in size from 5mm to nearly invisible to the naked eye.
What do bed bugs eat?
In short, your blood. They prefer to feed about every 5-7 days, but they can live for up to one year without a feeding. This makes them very hard to eradicate because they can get a meal then go hide somewhere else in the house. Bed bugs find their victims (us) by a mix of carbon dioxide, heat and other chemicals.
Where are bed bugs found?
They aren’t called bed bugs for nothing. They prefer to live close to their feeding station (us), and the most convenient spot is in and around our beds. When infestations are severe however, the bugs spread further around the house, and can be transported when they hop on board pets, bags or clothing.
How do bed bugs behave?
Bed bugs don’t like bright light or open spaces, so they usually run for cover when they find themselves in direct light. Contrary to popular belief, while they are fast, bed bugs are easily visible, caught and stomped on. They don’t move at supernatural speeds. They will hide anywhere available, whether that is the mattress, bed frame, or in and under objects around the room. They leave loads of digested, dried-blood laden feces in areas where they live. These deposits can be found in cracks and crevices where the bugs are. Bed bugs communicate using pheromones and give off a distinctly strong odor when disturbed (or squished).
How do bed bugs reproduce?
Bed bugs require sexual reproduction, and it is very violent. The male stabs the female with a sword-like penis and injects his sperm directly into her abdomen. The female lays eggs in hidden cavities in beds and other safe spots, and are a common source of re-infestation even when adults have been killed by exterminators.
Skin on an arm afflicted with numerous bed bug bites.
What are bed bug bites like?
Bed bug bites appear like bright red mosquito bites but can remain itchy for several days and cause rashes and blisters. A natural anaesthesia administered in the bug’s saliva prevents the victims from feeling the bite when they are first bitten. Soon after, the itching sensation becomes intense. A common sign of bed bugs or blood (that is, your blood) spots and streaks on the mattress in the morning after a night’s sleep.
How do you get rid of bed bugs?
This is the hard part. First, clean the room, vacuum all effected areas and dispose of the vacuum bag outside in a sealed container. Open the windows and turn the lights on. Allow light to permeate the effected room. Put your mattress out in the sun on a hot sunny day. Bed bugs thrive on dark, dirty environments, so this helps a lot. It is best to bring an exterminator to spray the effected items and rooms. In a pinch, spraying rubbing alcohol in effected areas does kill the bugs that come in direct contact. Extreme cold and heat also kills bed bugs. If you can put infested items in a walk-in freezer overnight or in a hot car sitting in the sun for a few hours, that should kill both the bed bugs and their eggs. Be sure to wash all clothing and fabrics in very hot water as well.
How can I prevent bed bug infestations?
Check the mattresses in your hotel for bugs or feces in the folds of the mattress. Check the sheets for signs of old blood stains where the bugs have previously bitten guests. Mattresses sealed in plastic covers are safest to use.
Could bed bugs be a link to the tourist deaths in Chiang Mai Thailand?
There have been a series of ‘mysterious’ deaths of foreign tourists in Chiang Mai, Thailand this year. Investigators have been unable to come up with a definite cause, though recently pesticides were proposed, and this is interesting because the tourists who died all stayed together in just a few hotels. When I heard about this, my immediate suspicion is that the hotels could have used unapproved chemicals, in desperation, to get rid of bed bugs while the guests were out during the day. Hotels panic whenever there is an infestation, so this seems like a logical thing to investigate.
Now that you know, book a hotel with my trusted parter, Agoda: