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While on vacation, don't let the bedbugs bite

By Chris McGinnis
CNN Headline News

Bedbugs live in cracks and crevices of beds, such as in this box spring.

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HLN Travel Adviser

(CNN) -- Anyone who's traveled lately has heard the coughing, sneezing and wheezing of fellow passengers suffering from the flu or a cold. But there's another bug to watch out for -- the bedbug.

Yes, bedbugs are making a comeback in hotels, according to experts. No, these are not lice, fleas or scabies. These are those old bugs from medieval times that likely spawned the phrase "sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite."

Bedbug experts cite several reasons for this resurgence, including increased travel.

"Homeowners are staying in hotels, picking up bedbugs in their suitcases and bringing them home," said Cindy Mannes of the National Pest Management Association in Dunn Loring, Virginia, outside Washington.

Orkin Inc. spokeswoman Martha Craft said, "In 2000, we had zero calls about bedbugs. In 2001, we performed 10 bedbug treatments nationwide. In 2002, we did 90. And in 2003, we treated 390 cases in 33 states."

In a statement, the company said, "We first started seeing [bedbugs] in hotels, but in the past year have also treated infestations in homes, apartments, college dormitories, condominiums, aircraft and cruise ships."

However, the American Hotel and Lodging Association is downplaying the bedbug threat.

"This is not a major problem at this point, but we are aware of it," said representative Tia Gordon. "I would not call it a resurgence."

Elimination requires insecticides, tools

Bedbugs are small flat bugs about the size of an apple seed that live in cracks and crevices of beds. They only come out at night to feed on people's blood with a painless bite. The only way to know about a bite is when you see the red, itchy welts on your skin in the morning.

"You'll also see dark red or black streaks of digested blood on the sheets along with a very distinctive, sweet smell which is the telltale sign of bedbug infestations," said Ludek Zurek of the Kansas State University's Department of Entomology.

Experts said bedbugs can survive for up to a year lying in wait for the nice warm body of an unknowing traveler. Once discovered, they can be difficult for a hotel or cruise ship to eliminate, requiring special insecticides and tools, not just a can of bug spray.

Bugs are 'great hitchhikers'

If you are concerned about bedbugs, inspect the bed by pulling the covers back and looking in seams or crevices in the mattress. If you spot bedbugs, ask for another room or a reservation at another hotel.

"Should you discover that you have been bitten by bedbugs, the good news is that they have never been known to transmit any diseases," Mannes said. "They are however, great hitchhikers, and we recommend that you thoroughly inspect or possibly vacuum your luggage before bringing it back into your home."

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