I got a frantic call recently from a colleague this week who had stayed in a hotel in a Southern city the previous night. She said that she woke up itching in the early morning hours and turned on her bedside lamp to find small amounts of blood on her sheets. She got out of bed and found bed bugs in her bed and along the cord of her mattress. They looked like tiny roaches running from the light. Hers was not an uncommon experience. Her biggest concern was taking bed bugs home with her when she left the room. She called me long distance as she had read our recent paper on bed bugs in the Journal of the American Medical Association and wanted some specific directions as to how to proceed.
Fortunately, she had one outfit in a plastic dry cleaning bag in a closet. I told her to notify the front desk of the infestation and ask them to bring her several large plastic bags. Then I recommended that she take her bed clothes and those in her open suitcase and put them in a plastic bag. I asked her to closely inspect the shoes from her suitcase for bed bugs and if there were none present, to take a shower and put on those shoes and her fresh outfit in the dry cleaning bag and leave her suitcase and bagged clothes in the room. I also asked her to empty her purse and put the contents in another plastic bag, take that bag with her and leave the purse in the room. The idea was not to take any live bed bugs or long-lived bed bug eggs from her body or clothing out of the hotel room with her.
She followed through, leaving her suitcase, garments, shoes and purse in the room. She then went to a nearby clothing store and bought new underwear, clothes and shoes and put the dress in the dry cleaning bag into another plastic bag with her shoes and discarded those just to be safe. No cleaners would have accepted these if they knew they might have bed bugs or eggs on them.
The visible bites on her lower leg were itching, so I suggested that she get some over the counter 1% hydrocortisone ointment and mix it with over the counter antibiotic ointment half and half and put on the bites frequently for several days until they resolved. I also mentioned that she should not be surprised if she had nightmares from this experience and gave her some guidelines as to how to deal with those.
What lessons can be learned from this experience? Whenever you choose a lodging, check for bed bugs before you unpack your bag. First put your baggage in the bathroom unopened, close the bathroom door and inspect the mattress and bedding. Check along the cord of the mattress at the head of the bed for blood spots or bed bugs. Pull the mattress cover back to see if there are blood spots or bugs on the mattress or the mattress cover. If you find signs of an infestation, take your possessions and leave the room, report your findings to the manager, and either ask for another room or go to another facility.
This approach does not rule out the possibility of bed bug infestations completely, but more often than not is successful.
There are ways to decontaminate clothes that are infested with bed bugs. However I do not recommend taking them into your home or a public laundromat for risk of spreading the infestation. The best solution is to discard them in the garbage in a double sealed plastic bag. Eggs laid by bed bugs can survive for months in bedding and carpets, so it is important to inform the management of your lodging of their presence. It is also appropriate to ask for reimbursement of any losses that have occurred to you. No medical attention is required if the bites heal and you feel well.