Sept. 29, 2010 -- You've just checked into a hotel after a long trip and plop down on the bed to get some rest. Little do you know that there are thousands of tiny little bugs in the mattress, ready to nibble away at you.
Reports of bedbugs are popping up across the country and striking fear into the hearts of many travelers.
A seemingly clean room might still have bedbugs. And the insects don't discriminate between roadside motels or luxury beachfront resorts. But there are steps you can take as a traveler to at least minimize your risk of getting bitten.
"Though it seems stories of bedbugs are everywhere, don't let it prevent you from taking a vacation. The truth is, the vast majority of travelers will have no issues with bedbugs during a trip," said Genevieve Shaw Brown, senior editor at Travelocity.
Bedbugs have been found in movie theaters, office buildings, department stores and plenty of homes and apartment buildings.
The National Pest Management Association says that bedbugs are on the rise in America, with a 71 percent increase in bedbug calls since 2001. The rise might be blamed on increased travel, lack of awareness and precautions, and changing pest control methods. The association did a study and found that bedbugs are a much greater problem in urban and suburban areas and are among the most difficult pests to treat.
"It's definitely something to worry about, but it's not something that you can control. They're very tiny, they're very hard to spot," said Anne Banas, executive editor of travel Web site SmarterTravel. "You can't prevent it 100 percent. There's just no way."
The American Hotel & Lodging Association said in a statement that "the increase has had a minimal impact on the vast majority of hotels."
"Bedbugs are brought into hotels by guests; it is not a hotel sanitation issue," the association said. "Education, awareness, and vigilance are critical. A trained and knowledgeable housekeeping staff is one of the best lines of defense, along with having regular pest control inspections."
Tips for Avoiding Hotel Bedbugs
A simple phone call to the front desk is worthwhile, but Banas warns, "the hotel is probably not going to be up front about it if they had a bedbug problem."
Some hotels are putting more effort into prevention and detection efforts than others, but all it takes is one guest with a contaminated suitcase to spur an outbreak.
"You can't assume that just because you're in a five-star hotel that you're going to be safe from bedbugs," Banas said.
Watch Where You Put Your Suitcase: When you first enter the hotel room, you want to be extra careful about where you set down your luggage.
"Avoid putting your suitcase on the floor, bed or chairs," Brown said. "In case there is a problem, you don't want to transport the bedbugs to your next location or back home. Keep the suitcase elevated until you've had a chance to inspect the room, maybe on a dresser or on a shelf in the closet."
Banas suggests placing your bags on the title floor of the bathroom. The bugs won't have anywhere to hide and you will be able to see them crawling across the tile.
"Whatever you do, don't put your suitcase on the bed. Don't put it on any upholstered item," she said. "We talk about bedbugs. But they really aren't just in the bed. They can be anywhere. They can be in the chairs, sofa, anything with fabric."
Inspect the Room: Now that your luggage is safe, take a look at the room.
"Pull back the bed linens and inspect the seams of the mattress for signs of bugs," Brown said.
That includes looking at the mattress, dust ruffle and any other item with fabric.
Look for little blood stains or other specks which could be the bugs shedding their skin or feces.
Tips for Avoiding Hotel Bedbugs
If you find any signs, tell the hotel's management immediately and request another room. If you still aren't satisfied with the new room, request a refund and try to find another place to stay.
Protect Your Luggage: Wrap your luggage in a large plastic bag when traveling or spray your suitcase with an insect repellent. Banas says your bags could be next to an infested suitcase in the cargo hold or overhead bin of an airplane. And yes, the bugs can make it from one adjacent bag to another.
Deep Clean Back Home: When returning from a trip, check your luggage and clothing. Vacuum your suitcases at home in case they became contaminated with the pests. And then immediately launder any item from your travels. There are many souvenirs you want to bring home from your travels. Bedbugs are not one of them.