Beware of bed bugs: 7 things to know about the blood-sucking critters

Bedbugs are seen in comparison with apple seeds in this photo provided by the American Museum of Natural History on Feb 2, 2016.
Bedbugs are seen in comparison with apple seeds in this photo provided by the American Museum of Natural History on Feb 2, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

A Canadian family of three suffered bed bug bites on a British Airways flight earlier this month, leading to the airline offering an apology and a flight upgrade on the return flight.

Ms Heather Szilagyi was flying with her seven-year-old daughter Molly and her fiance Mr Eric Neilson, when they noticed the bugs around their seats.

She informed a flight attendant but nothing could be done. When they landed, she contacted the airline.

A British Airways spokesman said the company was in touch with Ms Szilagyi, and had apologised and were conducting investigations.

The problem of the blood-sucking critters has emerged in recent years, with website BedBug Central reporting that populations have multiplied since the 1990s.

They can now be found in almost every country and region. Here are some things to know about them.

1. What are bed bugs?

They are parasitic insects that feed exclusively on blood. They come out of their hiding places at night and feed on the exposed skin of the host, usually without the person's knowledge.

Adult bed bugs are about the size of an apple seed, up to 5mm long, and can survive up to a year without feeding.

2. Bed bugs love travellers

The parasites thrive in places with a frequent turnover of people, such as hotel rooms, airplanes and taxis.

International travel has often been cited as a contributor to the rise of bed bugs.

3. What are the symptoms?

Red, itchy bites that have the appearance of flat, red welts in zigzag lines or small clusters.


Facebook user Jiamin Han lodged a complaint with Scoot after she was allegedly bitten by bed bugs while on a Singapore-Hong Kong flight PHOTO: FACEBOOK/JIAMIN HAN

Do not scratch the bites as this may lead to blisters or skin infections. Instead, wash and treat them with an anti-itch cream or apply calamine lotion. Then seek a doctor's advice.

If not scratched, the areas bitten may heal in a week or two.

4. Do your research before you travel

When planning where to stay, check for recent complaints of hotel infestations on BedbugRegistry.com or Bedbugger.com

Check reviews before booking a hotel room as guests who have encountered bed bugs are likely to mention this in their hotel review.

5. How do you check for bed bugs?


Dogs can be trained to sniff out bed bugs. PHOTO: AFP

When inspecting a room, check the surface of the mattress and under the blankets, especially in the corners, mattress seams and around the headboard. Pay particular attention to cracks, crevices, seams and folds.

Look for dried blackish spots, skin sheddings and even live bugs. Use a torch or the light from your smartphone to help you spot them more easily.

If you want to be extra careful, use a hairdryer and run it across the surfaces you are inspecting. The heat should send any bed bugs scurrying out.

6. Don't let them get into your luggage

When inspecting the room, place your luggage in the bathtub. Bed bugs generally do not like smooth, hard surfaces as they are difficult to hide in.

When packing or unpacking your luggage, place it on the luggage rack away from walls, the bed or the couch - places where bedbugs commonly reside. But before doing this, check that there are no bed bugs on the luggage rack.

Pack your dirty clothes in sealable bags if you think you have been in bed bug-infested quarters.

7. What if they get into your luggage?

Destroy any bugs or eggs in your luggage. Place them on the hard surface floor and not on the sofa or bed.

Wash dirty clothes in warm or hot water, then dry them in a dryer on a hot setting. This is sufficient to kill bed bugs in clothing or linens.

Then, sun your bags under direct sunlight for at least 30 minutes.

If the infestation is localised, cleaning the area with a vacuum cleaner that produces hot steam is enough. But if the whole house is affected, it is advisable to engage a pest control company.