All hotels have bed bugs! What to do?

First I thought the line of bites along my jaw were from mosquitoes, though I could not recall seeing any in my wanderings around Seville, Spain. My friends did not have any bites, so maybe it was because I breakfasted outside, I thought on the second day when a crop of bites appeared on my left arm. Maybe there were little flies biting me.

But the third night was enough. I woke at 2 am with a new crop of bites and dug around my mattress, discovering scurrying little insects that could only be bedbugs. I packed up and went downstairs, indignant and itchy, with welts on my arms, feet, back, and cheek. How dare the desk imply that I had brought them to the hotel from the plane! I got a new room, apparently an upgrade, though all I wanted was one free of bedbugs.

I posted my affliction on Facebook and learned of a bed bug registry, here, and for outside USA, here. This might be an answer. But then I had a chat with Becky Zufall who told me of a colleague from the UH hotel school. When asked at a meeting to say something surprising about their field, what she said was that all hotels had bedbugs at one time or another. The trick was to keep them controlled, to keep them from infesting the whole place. After all, these insects are attracted to us. They even go for the smell of our dirty clothes, apparently. So, what to do?

I thought back to the last time I got bitten by bedbugs. It was in a cheap hotel in Macuto, Venezuela, the third or fourth we tried, finding everything full. It was more than 25 years ago too. We did nothing special afterwards with all our luggage and did not pick them up either. In all the hundreds of nights in hotels between that trip and this one, I never once worried about bed bugs. I unpacked easily and quickly into the drawers. I snuggled unsuspiciously into the bed. Should I change now?

I was apparently the only one in our group that got unlucky.  I will miss a free confidence in drawers. So I think I will take a middle path. Actually part of it I took in this hotel. That is I hung all my clothes, even my underwear, clipped onto the hangars. I had read something about bedbugs on the airplane and this is what that article recommended. I think I’ll eschew drawers also. They aren’t really necessary. IMG_8158I’ll also probably give the bed a quick inspection, looking under the sheets and mattress pad. Odds are I’ll never again find anything.

I won’t reveal the hotel or put it on the registry. I don’t see the point since they clearly took care of this room, refunded my bill, and don’t seem to have a general problem. My guess is my affliction came from the blanket I unzipped from a bag, cold on that first night. If you check the registry for your hotel and bedbugs, remember only frequent posts probably matter. And who knows what AirBnB will do for spreading these insects.

The last thing I want to say is that we humans have an intense reaction to bed bugs. It is as if they are unclean in a profound way. Some people think getting rid of them is nearly impossible, that they are magic organisms rather than DNA mostly like our own packaged in a form that happens to sometimes succeed in turning us into them. I will freeze or wash my things. But I won’t worry that they’ve penetrated my computer. I won’t burn my clothes. And I won’t bring them with me.



About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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3 Responses to All hotels have bed bugs! What to do?

  1. Ellen Simms says:

    Not all humans react to bedbugs. My husband and I have encountered them three times so far. I always get bitten or react to the bites and he never has. My first experience was awful. Sydney Australia, the night before departure. I still recall the agony of sitting on the plane for 12 hours, itching intensely from over 40 bites, with no access to benadryl. Terrified of bringing them into the house, upon arriving home, we undressed before entering and took showers (our shower is immediately adjacent to the back door). I took benadryl for 3 days, just so I could sleep at night. I felt terribly guilty about all the luggage in the plane that we might have contaminated.

    Dry heat will kill them. We baked some of our belongings in the oven, froze others, and left the bags in our car, which we seldom use, waiting three weeks for a day hot enough (it’s Berkeley, before the drought) to cook them in the car. Since then, when arriving in a hotel room, we always deposit our luggage in the bathtub before checking the bed thoroughly. We never unpack our bags, and we always try to cook our luggage when we return. You can’t blame the hotel – the good ones do the best they can – it’s just bad luck. Two weeks before, we’d stayed in the same Sidney hotel with no problems. Just a different room. It really makes me think carefully about hosting guests, which is what makes me the saddest.

    • My reactions got worse and worse, so I didn’t actually move rooms until the third day. I like the bathtub idea. Sandie Baldauf had a cream from Sweden that worked better than hydrocortisone, had aluminum acetyltartrate or something in it or something, called alsogel in Sweden. I’m just not going to worry about hosting guests. They are actually quite rare and that social cost would be worst of all, at least for social me! 🙂

    • You are actually lucky to react strongly. It means they won’t build up! I might try the approach of zip locking each day’s clothes in its own bag next time I travel. Also, I travel very light so I don’t have much stuff to deal with.

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