"Good night. Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs bite."
I've heard that rhyme all of my life. Like 99% of people, I never gave it another thought. I mean, this is America. We don't get bed bugs here.
Well, someone forgot to tell the bed bugs that Missouri is part of America. Years ago, I was doing a story about Jim Long's garden out there near Branson and got a room at a big, fancy resort that I'll call (in order to avoid a lawsuit) the Big Seedy Lodge. The next morning, I went out to Jim's garden and started itching like crazy around my waist. I lifted up my shirt and saw a nearly straight line of red welts going across my belly.
At first, I blamed them on chiggers, but that didn't make sense. Chiggers attack your ankles first and, anyway, I wasn't walking barefoot. And it couldn't be mosquitoes, because my shirt had been tucked in the whole time I was outside. No, it had to be something that sneaked up on me as I was sleeping like a baby in the Big Seedy Lodge.
"BED BUGS!!!! AHHHHHHH!!!!!"
When I complained to the hotel manager, he refused to reduce my bill, but instead offered me a free night the next time I was in town. Oh yeah, that was tempting. "Why, sure, that's dandy!" I exclaimed. "There's nothing I appreciate more after a long day's work than to lie down in my bed and be devoured by an army of blood-sucking parasites."
They Only Come Out at Night
Bed bugs are the insect version of "True Blood." They primarily come out at night, feed painlessly on the blood of warm-blooded hosts like you and me, and hide during the day in the tiniest crooks and crevices. Adults grow to the size of an apple seed, but juveniles, which also bite, are much, much smaller and nearly impossible to see. Fortunately, bed bugs don't carry human diseases. But they reproduce like crazy, can go a year without feeding, and once they're in your home, they're very, very difficult to eradicate.
Signs of Bed Bugs
Once you're bitten, how do you know if a bed bug did it? Well, the welts tend to occur in lines on parts of your body not normally exposed to other biting insects. Small, dark spots on the bedsheet and mattress are another sure sign. These occur because either you unknowingly squashed an engorged bed bug while sleeping or you're looking at bed bug fecal spots. It makes sense, right? Bed bugs eat blood. Bed bugs poop blood.
Eradicating Bed Bugs
If you think your home might have bed bugs, call an exterminator. Make sure they've dealt with bed bugs successfully many times before. They'll often use a dog trained to sniff out bed bugs to discover where they're hiding. If they're in your mattress, it's probably best to throw it out.
So How Did We Get Bed Bugs Anyway?
Bed bugs aren't native to North America. They hitched a ride on travelers. And that's how they've made it into the homes of suburbia as well as the swankiest hotels in New York. People travel abroad where bed bugs are endemic. Bed bugs hide out in the luggage. People bring luggage home. People bring bed bugs home.
If you travel a lot, here are some common sense ways to avoid bringing bed bugs home with you.
1. It doesn't matter how clean or fancy the hotel room looks. It could still have bed bugs. So be aware.
2. Never leave your suitcase on the bed or carpet. Place it on the luggage stand away from the bed or even in the bathroom. Most bed bugs hide within 6 feet of the host.
3. Before you lie down, check the bed frame, mattress, and creases of the bedding to see if any fecal spots are present.
4. Inspect your luggage carefully upon returning from a trip. If possible, store the bags on a concrete floor in the garage. Don't put them in a bedroom closet. Wash all of your clothes in hot water.
5. Don't accept a free night at the Big Seedy Lodge.