Monkeypox Scare is an Important Bed Bug Reminder for Travelers
Monday, April 30, 2012
Last Thursday, health officials tipped off by an
overly-concerned mother that her daughter flying-in from Africa may
have picked up a contagious disease, placed a 2-hour quarantine on
a Delta plane in Chicago. What was presumed to be a possible case
of monkey pox evidenced by a rash on the passenger's skin turned
out to be nothing more than probable bed bug bites.
Monkeypox infection appears as a rash that consists of raised,
blister-like bumps, and is usually accompanied by fever, headache
and lymph node swelling. Bed bug bites, however, can cause a
swollen and reddened area that may or may not be itchy, and without
the other symptoms of monkeypox.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, monkeypox is a
rare and sometimes fatal disease similar to smallpox that occurs
primarily in central and western Africa. Monkeypox is contracted
through direct contact with infected animals or their bodily
fluids, and can spread among humans through fluids and contaminated
clothes or bedding.
In this case, potential bed bug-contaminated clothes in the
traveler's luggage may be the endnote for her quarantine ordeal and
one that many other travelers will face this summer.
To help prevent bringing bed bugs as unwanted souvenirs from
your next trip, the following biology lesson and tips on bed bug
removal from your luggage will keep you and your family bed bug
Bed Bug Basic Biology
Bed bugs are oval, flattened, brown, and wingless insects
approximately 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch long. Young bed bugs are much
smaller at approximately 1/16 of an inch when they first hatch and
are colorless until they begin feeding. After an adult bed bug has
taken a blood meal from an unsuspecting traveler, its color will
change from brown to a dark purple-red and will grow in size
morphing into a more elongated cigar-like shape. The presence of
bed bugs in a hotel room may be noted by fecal spotting consisting
of digested blood and skin castings the bugs shed while
Bed bugs are active reproducers and according to one expert if
40 bed bugs are released into a room, their population will reach
over 5,000 bugs in 6 months.
Bed Bug Hiding Places
Bed bugs will seek out beds, clothing and other areas where they
sense a potential blood meal may be present. However, visually
checking a bed before lying down is no guarantee that your bed or
room is bug-free as bed bugs have a penchant for hiding in dark,
recessed areas such as cracks and crevices in floors, closets,
mattresses and…your luggage were clothing is stored. However, while
many are tempted to throw out or burn their luggage in cases of
suspected bed bug infestation rather than risk bringing it into
their home, experts say that such measures are unnecessary as long
as precautions are taken.
Bed Bug Precaution Tips
Tip #1: Bag it
Packing your clothes in zip lock bags before embarking on a trip
is a good way to keep bed bugs out of your clothing during travel.
Furthermore, placing color-sorted soiled clothing back into the zip
lock bags before returning home limits the chances that you will
deposit bed bugs in your home. Upon returning home, leave your
suitcase outside and carry the pre-sorted clothing directly to the
clothes washer before opening.
Tip #2: Wash and dry on high
Heat is your friend when it comes to bedbugs. When washing, set
the washer and dryer cycles for the hottest settings that the
fabric can withstand. If some articles of clothing cannot take high
temperatures, consider going to the dry cleaner and let them know
about your bed bug concerns with your clothing.
Tip #3: Skip insecticides for elbow grease
Suitcases pose a special problem as they typically do not fit in
washers very well and provide lots of crevices for bed bugs to hide
in. Spraying with insecticides can be effective, but may also cause
staining and leave behind chemical odors that you will not want on
your clothing during your next trip. Experts advise hand-washing
suitcases outside the house using soap and the hottest water
possible. A target temperature of 100°F to 120°F should be
sufficient to kill all bed bug life forms from eggs to adults. Use
a scrub brush along the seams and folds to ensure that you are
getting to hidden bugs.
Tip #4: Heat or freeze
For luggage or other items that cannot be washed, you may want
to consider heating or freezing the bed bugs to death. If the
item's materials can handle it and are not easily combustible, some
experts recommend placing the items in an oven heated to a
temperature of 120-150 degrees Fahrenheit. Some studies have shown
that a 2-hour core exposure at 120°F should be considered as a
minimum target temperature for heat treatments-the hotter the
temperature, the shorter the "baking" time.
Freezing is another option for items that cannot be washed.
However, using the home freezer takes longer than baking it in the
oven as a minimum of 23°F must be maintained for at least 5
The thing to remember (aside from safety) is that with heating
or freezing, the entire item must reach the temperatures and
exposure times recommended to ensure all stages of bed bugs and
their eggs are being adequately exposed to result in complete
While following the tips with every trip may seem to be more
hassle than the perceived risk of picking up bed bugs at your hotel
or resort this summer, consider the cost and inconvenience if your
house or apartment were to become home to these unwanted