As coronavirus-related travel restrictions lift, you may be tempted to check in to a hotel or vacation rental for a much-needed weekend getaway. But there’s one pesky parasite experts say you still have to keep an eye out for: bedbugs.
Though rental properties have been vacant for several months, the bloodsucking pests haven’t necessarily died off. In fact, bedbugs can go for months between feedings, according to the National Pest Management Association.
“Bedbugs can be found virtually anywhere, and while many Americans are excited to resume travel plans, it’s imperative that they remember to stay vigilant against bedbugs,” says Brittany Campbell, a staff entomologist and research scientist with the NPMA based in Fairfax, VA.
“With many hotels experiencing low occupancy over the last few months, bedbugs will be hungry and may actually come out in broad daylight to feed—a dramatic shift in behavior for a pest that is notorious for feeding at night,” says Campbell.
This news probably also gives owners of vacation rental properties the heebie-jeebies. Being able to open your door to renters (and rental income) again? Exciting. Having to deal with hungry bedbugs? Not so much.
So how do you get ahead of any potential problems that can stem from a bedbug encounter? The following bug experts and property managers have a few ideas.
From translucent eggs the size of a grain of rice to reddish-brown adults measuring about a quarter-inch, bedbugs can vary in size, according to NPMA. While the adults can be seen with the naked eye, they typically prefer darkness.
“They like to hide in dark cracks and crevices, behind baseboards and headboards, and they can be cryptic creatures that are hard to find,” Campbell says. That’s also why an infestation can go untreated.
Telltale signs of an infestation include small stains on sheets and mattresses resembling reddish-brown ink blots. Campbell says these stains are usually found in clusters.
You might also see evidence of bedbug molts as the eggs hatch and grow. They look like clear, hollow replicas of bedbugs and can collect on sheets.
Perhaps the most obvious sign of bedbugs is their bites. Bedbugs will usually feed twice a week. Bite reactions vary by individual, Campbell explains, but most people will notice an itchy red welt. This can take days to show up, however, and some people never experience a reaction to the bite. Unlike ticks, bedbugs do not remain latched onto a host after feeding.
What to do if you’re a vacation property owner
Campbell recommends that owners establish a cleaning policy that will effectively combat bedbugs and that they know how to spot an infestation.
It’s also recommended that all beds be outfitted with mattress encasements, which can protect the mattresses themselves from the bugs’ fecal stains and ensure that you don’t have to throw a mattress away because of an infestation.
Campbell suggests placing pitfall traps under beds to catch live bedbugs. These traps can tip you off to an infestation early on. Want to be extra cautious? You can even go as far as removing any carpeting and/or rugs from your property.
Additionally, it’s good to have an ongoing relationship with local exterminators in case of a major infestation, Campbell says.
With no effective sprays or chemical treatments to repel bedbugs, Campbell says these steps are the best at preventing an infestation from taking hold.
If you’re traveling
Going on vacation soon? You can be proactive about keeping yourself safe from bedbugs. The NPMA recommends that travelers take the following precautions on their next trip.
- Keep your suitcase on a tiled floor or on a surface other than the bed or carpeting to avoid hitchhiking bedbugs. You might also consider keeping your clothing in plastic bags for the duration of your stay.
- Thoroughly inspect your entire room when you arrive, paying special attention to the headboard and sheets for any signs of an infestation. Live bedbugs could also be hiding under lamps, in dresser drawers, and on other furniture. A small flashlight will help with these inspections.
- Pull back the bedsheets to check mattress seams and corners for spots and stains.
- If you see anything suspicious, ask to change rooms or establishments immediately. Do not stay in an adjacent room at the same facility.
- Upon returning home from a trip, don’t bring your luggage inside until it’s been vacuumed and visually inspected for bedbugs.
- Contact a licensed pest control professional if you suspect an infestation in your own home.
Houston-based real estate investor Marina Vaamonde, of HouseCashin.com, also recommends looking at online reviews before booking a property.
“Make sure that there are no negative statements about the cleanliness of the property. I would then message the management of the property and openly ask them if they have experienced any bedbug issues in the past and what steps are they taking to prevent them.”
Property managers taking the proper precautions should be happy to answer your questions.
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