Sleep tight and don’t let the bed­bugs bite

Bed­bugs are on the in­crease, so how should the busi­ness trav­eller avoid or deal with them?

Business Traveller - - OPINION -

Abusi­ness trav­eller re­cently asked me how fre­quently a ho­tel should change its mat­tresses. He had been bit­ten in bed on his last trip. Judg­ing by re­cent ad­verts on Bri­tish tele­vi­sion we should be re­plac­ing our bed ev­ery six years, but isn’t this just man­u­fac­tur­ers’ sales talk?

Most up­mar­ket London ho­tels change their mat­tresses ev­ery eight years and, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try statis­tics, home own­ers are swap­ping old for new ev­ery ten years.

I cal­cu­late that for a ho­tel that runs more than 80 per cent oc­cu­pancy year round, with busi­ness trav­ellers stay­ing an av­er­age of just two nights, a ho­tel bed could have had more than a thou­sand dif­fer­ent peo­ple sleep­ing on it dur­ing an eight-year pe­riod. That is quite a num­ber, and guests can hope to rest as­sured that at least the linens are fresh and each mat­tress will have a pro­tec­tor.

Laun­dered sheets and new mat­tresses, how­ever, will not safe­guard the trav­eller from Cimex lec­tu­lar­ius, the ubiq­ui­tous bed­bug, which in­fest new mat­tresses as eas­ily as old.

The ap­pear­ance of bed­bugs and claims against ho­tels that have them are not un­com­mon. Dr Richard Nay­lor is an en­to­mol­o­gist who works for Cimex­s­tore, a com­pany that spe­cialises in bed­bug erad­i­ca­tion. He is of­ten called as a wit­ness to tes­tify where there is lit­i­ga­tion re­gard­ing ho­tel in­fes­ta­tions. He states that usu­ally ho­tels set­tle le­git­i­mate claims out of court, to avoid bad press on sites such as Tripad­vi­sor, and that lev­els of com­pen­sa­tion for those who get bit­ten vary greatly. Budget ho­tels might re­im­burse you the cost of your room, but up­mar­ket ho­tels have paid larger claims.

ON THE RISE

There has been a dra­matic in­crease in bed­bug cases over the past 15 years. In­fes­ta­tions have climbed in­ter­na­tion­ally since the 1980s, for rea­sons that are not clear. The US Na­tional Pest Man­age­ment As­so­ci­a­tion says that in­creased in­ter­na­tional travel may be a con­tribut­ing fac­tor. In Jan­uary 2018, Orkin – one of the largest pest con­trol firms in the States – pub­lished a list of cities that had the most treat­ments from their firm. Bal­ti­more was at the top of the list, fol­lowed by Wash­ing­ton DC and then Chicago.

Back in the UK, Dr Nay­lor says that in the 1930s in parts of London ev­ery house was in­fested. In com­par­i­son, to­day’s bed­bug lev­els are low, but the prob­lem is in­creas­ing de­spite a decade of new bed­bug pes­ti­cide de­vel­op­ment.

The most likely source of infestation is from lug­gage, and once in a ho­tel bed­room, in­sects in­habit not only the bed but also other soft fur­nish­ings and fix­tures. The trav­eller can take some com­fort from ex­am­in­ing the bed for signs of infestation first (small dark spots on the mat­tress may in­di­cate bed­bug drop­pings), but this method is no guar­an­tee. Bugs travel af­ter they have fed, and scurry off to the dark­est and warm­est parts of the room.

In the United King­dom un­der the Oc­cu­piers’ Li­a­bil­ity Act, hote­liers must take all rea­son­able mea­sures to prevent fore­see­able hazards like these; guests should be pro­tected in rooms and restau­rants. With the dis­ap­pear­ance of DDT decades ago, fu­mi­ga­tion has be­come more chal­leng­ing. The most ef­fec­tive treat­ment seems to be with the use of smoke-bomb fog­gers con­tain­ing per­me­thrin. You light the fuse, stand well back and leave the room for 24 hours. Af­ter that all the mov­able bed­ding has to be laun­dered and the car­pets as well as soft fur­nish­ings vac­u­umed. Dis­in­fes­ta­tion can also be achieved by in­su­lat­ing the room and then us­ing heaters to raise the tem­per­a­ture to 45°C for 24 hours; a com­plex and costly af­fair.

COVER YOUR­SELF

So what should busi­ness trav­ellers do if they wake up in the morn­ing and find them­selves cov­ered in bright red bumps? Firstly, they should make sure of their facts be­fore pur­su­ing any claim, and should doc­u­ment the cir­cum­stances. Pho­to­graphs are use­ful and med­i­cal re­ports are im­por­tant. In ev­ery case, the ho­tel should be ad­vised im­me­di­ately and they should let you know what they in­tend to do about your is­sue at the same time. If you have been bit­ten, you should put all your cloth­ing in the wash­ing ma­chine when you get home. Wash then dry them to the max­i­mum tem­per­a­ture your cloth­ing can tol­er­ate. That should kill off any bed­bugs.

And for those of you who, like me, want to sleep tight, we should take no chances on our next trip to Bal­ti­more. I will be nap­ping in the bath, wrapped in a mos­quito net.

Laun­dered sheets and new mat­tresses will not safe­guard the trav­eller from Cimexlec­tu­lar­ius

D E R E K P I C OT A HO­TEL I E R F OR MORE THA N 3 0 YE ARS AND AUT HOR OF HOT EL R ESERVAT I ONS

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