Q. My husband and I are travelling outside of Canada in a couple of weeks, and I’ve heard the area we’re travelling to apparently has issues with bedbugs. Is there any way to avoid them? Can they give you diseases?
— Lisa Ramsay, Toronto, Ontario
A. When it comes to bed bugs, there is both good news and bad news: unlike mosquitos, they don’t spread any life-threatening diseases, but they are almost impossible to get rid of without the aid of pest control. The easiest way to avoid bed bugs is to do your research. Tripadvisor is a great resource, and if your resort is having a problem, there are travellers who will use Tripadvisor to vent about it. You should also know that bed bugs don’t necessarily mean that a hotel or resort has substandard cleaning standards. Bed bugs are opportunistic nomads, and could turn up at the Waldorf-Astoria if they found the right transportation.
There are a few precautions you can take. Places that experience high turnover have a greater probability of experiencing an infestation, making time shares, apartments or seasonal resorts safer options. Once you get to your room, look out for black or brown spots on bedsheets and mattresses; if you find any start poking around for bed bugs. They are about 6 to 10 mm-long and have extremely flat bodies, which allow them to hid in tiny crevices: behind wallpaper, under carpet, in headboards, box springs, the corners of picture frames, inside electronics—in short, places that humans can’t easily access.
Once you find them, unfortunately all you can do is switch rooms. Try and get on a different floor or wing, because bed bugs often infest more than one room. Or, if you have the supplies, use an insect repellant containing DEET; wear clothing that has been soaked in permethrin; or sleep under a bed net, also soaked in permethrin.
For a picture of a bed bug, click here.
If You’ve Been Bitten
If you wake up and find that you’ve been bitten, don’t worry—the worst that can happen is an allergic reaction, which is more unpleasant than dangerous. The majority of people don’t react at all, but some develop red, itchy welts. These go away within a week, and can be alleviated with a topical corticosteroid. If you experience nausea or signs of skin infection, see a doctor immediately.
For Health Canada’s guidelines on how to deal with bed bugs in your home, click here.