Don’t Bug Me!

As the summer travel season heats up, here are some tips to avoid the nagging bedbugs problem infesting nearby metropolitan areas.

Alex Wild/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis.

Folks in Philadelphia and New York City might claim bragging rights over New Jersey on numerous fronts, but here’s one crown they can keep: According to the pesticide pros at Terminex, our urban neighbors are the most bedbug-infested cities in these United States. That’s bad news for New Jersey—since the bedbugs are avid travelers, eager to hop a ride on clothing, suitcases, pets and people.

Bedbugs have already made unscheduled appearances at UMDNJ, the Monmouth Mall cinema complex, the Union County welfare office, the Hudson County and Irvington jails, two senior citizens’ complexes in Middletown and the municipal courthouse in Jersey City, not to mention scores of private residences across the Garden State.

As the summer travel season heats up, the small brown pests are likely to be hitting the road along with the rest of us. So if you’ve got plans to rent a house or check into a hotel this summer, it makes sense to know—and possibly avoid—this potential enemy.

DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE. Don’t be afraid to ask the hotel or landlord whether bedbugs have been a problem in the past, and find out whether there’s a policy in place regarding the creepy-crawlies. (Last year the state Assembly passed a bill requiring landlords to pay for eradication of bedbugs, but Senate approval is still pending.)

CASE THE JOINT. Bring a flashlight and look for evidence—the pests themselves, their—Yuck!—droppings (small brown or black pencil-point spots) or rice-like eggs. Common hiding places include mattresses, box springs, and cracks and crevices in headboards, as well as sofas and any furniture located near the bed. (“They like to lay their eggs in screw holes and drawer tracks,” notes Michael Cavanaugh, COO of Cavanaugh’s Termite & Pest Services, secretary of the New Jersey Green Industry Council and past president of the New Jersey Pest Management Association.)

BE PROACTIVE. If the landlord of your summer rental hasn’t installed mattress and box-spring encasements—protective fabric covers like Protect-A-Bed’s Buglock and Bed Shield—consider requesting them or buying them yourself. They not only keep bedbugs from taking up residence in your bedding, says Cavanaugh, but they also make it easier to spot the bugs if they’re trying to find a way in. Keep suitcases and other bags off the bed and floor (to avoid bringing bedbugs home with you) or invest in protective luggage liners.

LEAVE EXTERMINATION TO THE PROS. If you find possible evidence of bedbugs after you’ve moved in (or suspect they’ve hitched a ride home with you), call in a professional, even if you’re not certain that you’ve got an actual infestation. “Bedbugs are very difficult to find if there are only a few of them,” says Rutgers entomologist Changlu Wang. A pro will know how to exterminate the bugs (it could take several visits) and where to look for them (yes, those bedbug-sniffing dogs really do work, says Cavanaugh). According to Wang, over-the-counter “pesticide-free” sprays (usually manufactured from plant-derived oils) may kill the bedbugs you actually hit, but aren’t likely to do anything about those you don’t see (potentially hundreds).

TAKE CARE WHEN YOU GET HOME. As soon as possible after you return, wash all your clothes, sheets and towels at the hottest temperature possible, and carefully check luggage for travelers. Wang suggests doing the same when kids return from college or camp. Yes, you’ve got to take them in—but that doesn’t extend to their six-legged friends.

RECOGNIZING BITES. Not so easy, since bedbug bites can take several forms—reddish spots on the skin, small red bumps or welts, and even blisters—and different folks react in different ways. If you’re not allergic to the bites, you probably won’t feel much at all; otherwise, you might experience anything from a mild to a moderately severe itch. If you feel yourself being bitten, check the site to see if you can catch the bug in action, advises Wang. “Bedbugs,” he says, “need three to 10 minutes to finish feeding.” If you can’t find the culprit but suspect a bedbug, change your clothes at once, place them in a plastic bag and wash and dry them at high heat. If no other bites appear within seven days, you probably don’t have bedbugs. And if you do have an infestation, the good news—which may not stop you from shuddering—is that bedbugs don’t appear to carry any communicable diseases.

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