The bed bug picture: bleak and getting worse in some towns

Many travelers return home with unwelcome guests -- ConsumerAffairs

Where in the U.S. are bed bugs most likely to hitch a ride to on your luggage?

Bed bugs are bad enough, but some U.S. cities are getting an extra helping, especially in tourist destinations. 

Bed bugs can turn up anywhere – homes, schools, hotels, airport gates, furniture stores – and the overall picture is particularly scary in the U.S.’ major metros. Bed bugs love dense populations so they can hang with their buds and where better to get chummy than New York City. The Pet Gnome study of 500 American towns and cities says the Big Apple ranks best -- or is that worst -- in the infestation and urban density ranking. 

Next up is Los Angeles, and despite its lower urban density, Houston finds itself in the number three spot. The reason there, the researchers concluded, is that Houston has a large number of accommodations and used furniture stores. 

If you don’t want to be within miles of a bed bug, then you should move to Flower Mound, Tex., northwest of Dallas. Bed bugs don’t like extreme heat and Flower Mound’s temperatures can easily rise well past 100 degrees six out of the 12 months.

Your bags are packed and ready to go, but so are a bed bug’s

A separate recent survey conducted by The Sleep Doctor, a leading sleep resource, found that one out of every seven U.S. travelers reported encountering a bed bug last year – and 20% of them went eye-to-eye with those creatures in five-star hotels. Yikes! 

And, surprise – a third of bed bug spotters slept in the bed completely clueless of the situation. Nearly 80% added that their bed bug encounter messed with their sleep for days on end.

Bed bugs love tourist towns

Connecting the dots between the Sleep Doctor study and the one done by Pet Gnome, anyone thinking about traveling to Las Vegas or Honolulu should take precautions.

Both of those tourist staples are loaded with bed bugs. The same is true with Jersey City and Boston. Florida is particularly troubling with Miami Beach, Fort Myers, West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Cape Coral all with significant bed bug populations. 

However, bed bugs don’t appear to dig country music or cowboys, so if you’re big on Garth and Miranda or rodeos, head off to Nashville or Oklahoma City which have some of the lowest population bug densities.

How does one keep their summer vacation bed bug-free? Spotting bed bugs isn’t as easy as spotting a bear, but Pest Gnome researcher Maria Isabela Reis says there are four ways you can improve your chances of traveling bed bug-free.

  1. “Choose your unpacking area wisely, preferably the bathroom or the garage (but never the bedroom),” she suggests. “Put your luggage on a light-colored surface, so there’s a stark contrast to make bed bugs more visible.”

  2. An indispensable tool in the bed bug hunt is a flashlight. Reis says to shine the light into the folds, pockets, zippers, and hidden areas of your luggage because they tend to hide in dark, undisturbed places.

  3. She’s also a fan of a magnifying glass that can also be particularly useful for identifying bed bug eggs and nymphs (baby bed bugs), which are much smaller and lighter in color than adults.

  4. “Use a credit card, library card, or a similar thin, rigid item to probe and scrape along the seams, pockets, and straps of your luggage. This can help dislodge any bed bugs hiding within the crevices.”

And if you get bit by one?

If you’re lucky, Reis’ tips will save you from the agony of getting bit by a bed bug, but what’s important to remember is that the impact of encountering bed bugs extends beyond the initial exposure. 

“The aftermath of being bitten can linger, with skin irritation and persistent itching prolonging the discomfort. Furthermore, this experience may serve as a lingering reminder, triggering elevated anxiety not only during travel but also in future circumstances,” Dr. Michael Breus (PhD, FAASM), Founder of The Sleep Doctor, said.

“To manage anxiety, empower yourself with knowledge. Understanding that the situation is temporary and poses no lasting harm can significantly diminish anxiety levels. You can also try engaging in pre-sleep distractions to redirect your focus away from worrisome thoughts.”

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