They Want to Suck Your Blood

Bedbugs are back and a big problem for hotel guests worldwide

By , Tuesday, Jan 18, 2005, 3:05 PM

It's possible to find bedbugs almost anywhere--skeevy motels and first-class resorts alike (National Geographic)

What you'll find in this story: bed bug information, travel information, travel news, travel safety, hotel information

They're a quarter-inch long and light tan to dark red in color, and at night they crawl out of hiding to look for warm flesh to feed on. When they find a host, they inject a numbing agent so that they can suck blood undisturbed. Most people never know that they've been bitten.

After a half century during which they virtually disappeared from first-world countries, bedbugs are back. The National Pest Management Association says that bedbug activity in the U.S. has increased 500 percent over the past three years, and a few well-publicized lawsuits have some travelers paranoid. But what threat do bedbugs really pose? And what can you do to ensure that you sleep tight and don't let you-know-whats bite?

The truth is, the chances that your room will be infested with the blood-feeding insects are extremely low (lodging owners say mice, ants, and roaches are far bigger problems, if that's any consolation). Still, it's possible to find bedbugs almost anywhere--skeevy motels and first-class resorts alike. There's no evidence that bedbugs spread disease or cause any serious harm to people, but just the idea of them can ruin a good night's rest. Here's what to do after you check in.

Rip off the bedding: Examine the folds of the mattress and any crevices around the headboard area, where bedbugs have been known to hide out. Dotted brown-gray stains on the mattress can mean bedbugs are regular guests there.

Examine the sheets closely: "Tiny blood spots on the sheets are their calling card," says Dr. Gary Bennett, a professor of entomology at Purdue University. 

Take a whiff: An infested room will have a sickly-sweet smell.

Don't put luggage on the bed: Bedbugs spread primarily by stowing away in the baggage of oblivious travelers, so avoid helping them find a new home.