Bed Bugs Taking a Bite out of Hotels.
David Wilkening
Wednesday, 21st February 2007
Bed bugs have been in the news lately but when it comes to them checking into hotels - it's as rare as an outbreak of Asian flu. So rare, in fact, that the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) does not even keep statistics on the number of complaints.

"It's a very miniscule problem. We sell about three and a half million rooms every night in the US and I can probably count on one hand or maybe two hands the complaints we get," says Joe McInerney, president of the Association.

Hotels are particularly vulnerable to bed bugs because they often travel in luggage and clothing. Also, there's the obvious reason that hotels have beds where the creatures love to settle.

That does not mean the industry discounts the issue of bedbugs, however.

"Even one is too many," adds McInerney. He believes that the rare bed bugs incidents are reported because they are sensational news.

But there is obviously some cause for concern.

"The comeback of the bed bug is turning into a legal and public-relations headache for the hotel industry," wrote The Wall Street Journal last year.

What are bed bugs and how serious a threat are they?

They are brown-colored, blood-feeding insects about ¼ inches long. They're easy to see with the naked eye, but difficult to find while hiding.

They may feed on a person's skin for several minutes at a time. The bites are painless, however, and not felt by most people. The bites can, however, leave a hard bump with a whitish center that can itch for several days, says Ecolab Pest Elimination, a global developer and marketer of cleaning, sanitizing, pest elimination, maintenance and repair products and services for the hospitality and other industries.

Bed bugs are parasites but there's no evidence they spread disease. They are nocturnal, are attracted to carbon dioxide and body heat, and have the amazing ability to repopulate themselves and re-infest a room in just three months.

They can hide almost anywhere, including upholstered furniture nightstands. They can also be found in unexpected places such as telephones, under carpet edges, in light fixtures and even on housekeeping carts.

Bed bugs feed on blood. They feed by piercing the skin with an elongated beak. Their feeding usually lasts anywhere from three to ten minutes, with the victim seldom knowing what is happening.

They are active mainly at night. During the day, they prefer to hide close to where people sleep. Their flattened bodies let them fit into tiny crevices, especially those associated with mattresses and headboards. They do not have nests like ants or bee but tend to congregate in habitual hiding places.

Bed bugs go way to pre-historic times before humans beings were around. They were mostly eradicated in the US around World War II, but they came back in large part because of less use of strong pest-killing products that used to control them, according to Ecolab.

"With improvements in hygiene, and especially the widespread use of DDT during the 1940s and 50s, the bugs all but vanished," wrote Michael F. Potter, an extension entomologist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.

The Environmental Protection Agency phased out two sprays that were particularly effective in killing bed bugs in 1972, saying the drugs were potentially dangerous to humans. The EPA says that 673 registered pesticides are still available to treat bed bugs, but acknowledges that they are less effective than the tried-and-true chemicals of the past

How common are incidents?

That's difficult to answer but they are becoming more commonplace.

There's also the matter of fraud. There have been various lawsuits stemming from bed bugs.

Bed bug claims are among the top frauds perpetrated against hotels, however, according to Thomas Jones, an associate professor at the University of Nevada Las Vega's hotel school.

The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) says bed bugs are on the rise, increasing by more than 500 percent over the past few years.

The reported increase, however, has had a "minimal impact on the vast majority of hotels, which maintain state-of-the-art sanitation and adhere to strict standards of cleanliness," says the NPMA.

James O. Abrams, president of the California Hotel & Lodging Association, says bed bug complaints are more common in recent years. He says he is not sure why.

"No one seems to really know," he says. "But some people believe they are imported from people from other countries when they bring insects into the US."

"Bed bugs are brought into hotels by guests; it is not hotel sanitation issue," says the NPMA. "One reason for the increase in incidents is attributed to the rise in international travelers."

Mike Ginper, manager of the Best Western in Rockford, Illinois, says his hotel is perhaps typical in having a regularly administered pest control program.

"We have a program monitoring for pests and we set it up, and they take care of it," he says. "We let them handle it."

"Education, awareness and vigilance are critical," says the NPMA. "A trained and knowledgeable housekeeping staff is one of the best lines of defense, along with having regular pest control inspections."

Pest management officials say also that hotel staff members should be on the lookout for not only live insects, but also for dried blood or excrement or other indications that bed bugs have been there.

A hotel's staff should do such routine housekeeping chores as vacuuming rooms and accessories daily.

They should also be inspecting incoming furniture and wall hangings for traces of bugs; and inspect and repair loose wallpaper and cracks in the baseboards to reduce areas where the bugs can settle, says the NPMA.

Hotel managers should also eliminate clutter since belongings strewn around rooms offer bed bugs many places to hide, points out entomologist Potter.

Laundering bedding and drying it in a hot dryer will kill bed bugs, say pest control experts.

If there are any infested areas found, the surroundings should be thoroughly vacuumed.

But in the end, the best defense is simply contracting for regular pest elimination efforts.

"It's very simple," says McInerney. "The thing is to make sure rooms are clean and that they (hotel management) are using proper sanitary cleaning methods,"

David can be reached at: dwilkening@cfl.rr.com
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