By Devin Billbrough
I’m just going to address the elephant (or bug) in the room: bed bugs are a thing. From a young age we’ve been tucked in at night and told “don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
It seems cute at the time, but have you ever stopped to think about what it really means? When travelling, or even in the comforts of your own home, you may be faced with actually being bit by bed bugs without much warning. Once you’ve been bit, you can’t help but think back to that catchy phrase you’ve known since childhood and curse the heavens.
Now that we’re living and traveling Europe — visiting countless hostels, apartments, and hotels — we start to become more aware of the so called “creature of the night”. I’m here to debunk some of the common misconceptions and reactions everyone has, including myself.
Myth: You can only get bed bugs from hostels in Europe.
Reality: Due to the lack of hostels in America, we all have this negative perception of them – anyone else thinking about the movies? We think they’re cheap, dirty, and outright disgusting. False. I’ve been traveling Europe non-stop for the past year straight and the hostels I’ve stayed in are nicer than some of the hotels I’ve been to in the United States. You can get bed bugs literally anywhere. NYC, the big apple itself, had a massive epidemic about 2 years ago where bed bugs were found in homes, apartments, and even 5-star hotels.
Myth: Bed bugs are a product of filth.
Reality: I wish this was true, but even the finest establishments can suffer from bed bugs. Sad to say, but the homes you see on Buried Alive can be bed bug free while Caesar’s Palace could be infested. Think about it.
Myth: “I GOT BIT. MY LIFE IS OVER. I’M GOING TO DIE!”
Reality: I myself am guilty of overreacting to bed bug bites in the past, convincing myself I’m going to die from the plague. But after the initial shock and insane amounts of research, I realized there are no real health hazards from being bit. You’re not going to die, you will not get Ebola, you will not die of malaria, but you are going to be itch queen for a few days. The most damage these critters can cause is emotional distress. Just breathe – everything will be okay.
Myth: Bed bugs are restricted to the bed.
Reality: If this was the case, getting rid of bed bugs would be a piece of cake. Those little suckers (pun intended) will literally find any crevice to travel or hide in. Bed bugs travel on clothing and suitcases and hide in everything from bed frames to electric sockets. While this can make it more difficult to get rid of them, keeping your homes clean of clutter reduces the places they can hide.
Myth: “I can just use anti-bed bug spray on the beds and sheets and I won’t get bit.”
Reality: While these sprays can give you peace of mind at night, they typically aren’t effective at ridding yourself of bed bugs. Bed bugs need to be eliminated, not treated. These sprays only work if the chemicals come in direct contact with the bugs, not just where the bugs are crawling, and have little success on killing the eggs. You could be poisoning yourself by breathing in these chemicals and not the bugs at that point. The only way to effectively free yourself from the wrath of these creepy-crawlers is to hire a professional pest control company.
Myth: It takes months to get rid of bed bugs.
Reality: Depending on the level of severity, bed bugs can be eliminated in as little as 15 minutes. If coming home from a weekend trip and you think you might have had bed bugs, putting clothes and any items in a dryer on high heat for 15 minutes will kill the bugs and any eggs that may be present. For more intense scenarios, they can be eliminated in about one week with professional freezing treatments.
Myth: If there are bugs in my bed, they most definitely are bed bugs.
Reality: Just because there is a bug in your bed that does not mean it is a bed bug. Anything can crawl in with you, including spiders, beetles, and even mosquitoes. Knowing how to identify the difference will help you stay sane. Bed bugs are flat and brown with no wings, unlike other pests you might find.
Myth: You can’t see bed bugs.
Reality: From egg to adult stage, bed bugs are visible to the naked eye. They may be harder to spot due to all the hiding places they can choose from (mattresses, headboards, electric sockets, etc), but if you know where to look you’ll be able to see them or evidence that they’re there.
Myth: “These are a $200 pair of jeans and now I have to throw them away because of stupid bed bugs. This is the worst day of my life.”
Reality: While your first reaction may be torch everything that is infected, don’t do it. You don’t have to throw away your clothing or furniture if you find out you have bed bugs. Treating your items will be cheaper than replacing everything. Clothes, shoes, and suitcases can be laundered or vacuumed to kill bugs and eggs. Bed bugs are not fans of extreme temperatures so freezing/heating potentially infected items will do the trick. For those larger items that cannot be thrown into the dryer, find a professional to come and treat your apartment, don’t try to just take care of it yourself.
I know this is a topic we’d much prefer to avoid, especially because we’d all like to ignore the fact that bed bugs actually exist. While we are studying abroad, or just traveling, it’s inevitable that we’re going to get the travel bug, but it’s important not to get bed bugs as well. Being aware of how to prevent and treat these pests will lead to a more fun time exploring everything the world has to offer.