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Originally published Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 7:04 PM

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Be vigilant to avoid bedbugs when traveling

Bedbugs are back with a vengeance, and it seems hotel rooms — from low-budget affairs to suites in luxury resorts, as well as rental condos and apartments at ski resorts — have served as vectors for their spread.

The Denver Post

Avoiding bedbugswhile traveling

Before you go: Check your lodging on sites such as TripAdvisor.com or Bedbugregistry.com. Keep in mind that one posting does not mean the hotel is rife with bugs, but multiple postings could indicate a problem.

Hotels should and do clean and treat for infestations regularly, but because the problem continues to increase, travelers just bring more bugs in with them, which means hotels have to remain vigilant about checking for infestations and quickly address the issue.

Before unpacking: Look for signs of bedbugs before you unpack in a hotel room. Look behind pictures hanging on the walls, look under bed covers, look on baseboards. One telltale sign of bedbugs is their waste, which looks like coffee grounds. Also check for their eggs, which are white with a red spot, and their shed skins. If you find these signs, report the infestation and ask for another room (and check it, too).

Luggage precautions: Use solid-sided luggage, not cloth.

Keep your luggage on the racks, not on the floor or under the bed.

Don't unpack your clothes into the hotel drawers.

When you return home:

Instead of hauling luggage into the house, first remove clothing and anything else that could harbor a bedbug and launder it in hot water or have it professionally cleaned.

Store your luggage in the garage, not in your bedroom closet.

After unpacking, vacuum the house well to remove any bedbugs that might have attached to your shoes or other items, and freeze the bag before throwing it in the garbage.

Signs of bedbugs include:

Your skin has bite marks — small, mosquito-bite-size bumps on the skin — that turn red and itch.

You find signs of the pests (the waste, the eggs, etc.) around the home.

If you suspect an infestation, contact a pest-control operator. Don't move to a new bed or someone else's house — you'll only spread the problem. Pest control usually takes two to three applications to eradicate the bedbugs; heat treatment can work.

The Denver Post

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Years of backpacking in Third World countries introduced Michael Newberg, 53, to plenty of meddlesome insects. None, though, compared to the bedbugs that infested his suburban Denver home last year after a stay in a hotel in Estes Park, Colo.

"My stepdaughter had to throw away all of her stuffed animals," said Newberg. "They will go inside the animals. How do you tell an 8-year-old that her life with stuffed animals is gone? Our expenses (to rid the house of bedbugs) are pushing $3,000 to $4,000."

Newberg hired pest-control specialists to fumigate the house — three times. All of his clothing, and even the drapes, had to be laundered.

Bedbugs, like vampires, live to suck blood. But wooden stakes kill vampires, and garlic repels them. Compared with bedbugs, vampires aren't so tough.

"We've had people say, 'We know they are in this apartment complex; can we just shut it down for a year?' " said Mathew Camper, a research associate at Colorado State University who studies bedbugs. "The answer is no. They go into hibernation and they just wait."

Hotel rooms — from low-budget affairs to suites in luxury resorts, as well as rental condos and apartments at ski resorts — have served as vectors for the spread of bedbugs. Bedbugs attach themselves to patrons while they sleep. Hotel guests then bring the pests home. Soon, the house is swarming with them.

Cleaning won't affect them. Laundering clothes will get rid of some, but the house undoubtedly contains more. Even spraying every room with powerful poisons won't always do the trick.

Bedbugs are back, and it seems they may be here to stay.

Anywhere people sleep can become a breeding ground for the nasty little insects. Many people believe they got their infestations from hotels. You can also get bedbugs from a neighbor, a plane flight, even secondhand furniture. For Newberg, the first evidence of bedbugs occurred several days after he and his wife spent a night at a hotel. The hotel denied that its room was the source, Newberg said.

Wherever they came from, getting rid of the bugs was inconvenient, unpleasant and expensive for the family. The bugs bit Newberg, but he wasn't deeply affected. His wife, on the other hand, developed dreadful rashes and welts; she couldn't stop itching.

Camper said the divergent reactions aren't unusual. Some people react violently to bites, others don't.

When Newberg travels now, he takes precautions.

"I use these giant Ziploc bags," he said. "When I get home, everything goes to the dry cleaner before it goes into the house. You don't know who stayed in the hotel before you did."

All it takes is one pregnant bedbug, brought home in the collar of a shirt or in the seam of a suitcase, to turn a house into an infestation zone.

Treating them is difficult. Some poisons work, but it takes several treatments, and bedbugs develop resistance, Camper said. The best approach is heat (some exterminators heat rooms to 130 degrees to kill bedbugs).

Bedbugs aren't entirely avoidable, but travelers can do things to reduce their exposure like checking beds (and even strip the sheets to check); the bedbugs' feces look like coffee grounds.

"Knowledge is the best thing," said Camper. "Being vigilant when you travel."

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