[Editor's note: The following column is released in advance of the August 2010 issue of Security Dealer & Integrator magazine, which has extensive coverage on hotel security, but this bed bug issue is so big that we had to break it here first.]
If you travel for business or pleasure, you need to know this. And if you're a security director of a hotel or a hotel chain, then you and your CFO and CEO need to read closely and think hard on this subject.
Last month I wrote about situational awareness in my monthly column in Security Dealer & Integrator (SD&I) magazine and this month, I'm living out a new situation that you need to be aware of. On a recent business trip, I stayed at a lovely, high-end hotel and awoke the second morning to find three little bug bites on me. I didn't think anything about them really. Bugs don't bother me. They're everywhere and harmless for the most part. That last morning, day three, I awoke to find an easy count of 45 bug bites on me. I was Beyond Horrified and highly bothered. And nope, I never felt one of them bite me!
In informing the hotel that I thought I might have been bitten by bedbugs, I was told, "can't be so, we treat for that!" As their mouth is saying this, my brain is saying, 'not well enough!' Next I was told I had an allergy to their detergent and lastly I had hives. Security was sent to my room to investigate the matter! Security? This isn't a housekeeping issue? The nicest young man arrived at the door and as we examined the bedding, I asked, what are we looking for? He replies, "Madam, I don't have clue, I'll get help." An older gentleman arrived asking if I'd show him the bites and he photographed the ones I would allow him to see. And as I was fleeing the hotel as fast as I could, I whispered to the desk folks, what do I do to ensure I don't take them home? They giggled at me, saying no need to whisper. They retreated and returned telling me there was no one in housekeeping (at 10 a.m.) but don't take your suitcase inside and wash all my clothes. This proved to be pretty inadequate information. I should have been given a written sheet that said, if you think you may have been exposed to bedbugs, it is recommended that you completely strip off everything, including your shoe before entering your home, leaving your suitcase, handbag, carry on, "everything" outside of your home. After stripping down, you can bag all your clothes in a clear, large, sealable plastic bag until they can be treated but do not bring anything, your clothes, shoes, suitcase or any handheld bags into your house until they too have been fully treated. Scurry to your shower and scrub a dub, dub making sure there are no eggs on your body anywhere. And I'll get to how you treat your clothes, suitcases and bags in just minute.
Yes, I'd already removed a layer of two of flesh at the hotel. But my suitcase had been lying on the floor for three days and my clothes were strewn about on chairs and laying on the stool at the base of the bed, just waiting for the invaders to jump on. When I got to the airport, I rifled through my bag for some cozy jeans to wear on the plane ride home. Got home, left my suitcase outside, tossed my handbag on the bed, and rolled onto the sofa in my clothes to watch some tube before crashing for the night. I was already screwed. I just wasn't properly educated on the severity of the issue and exactly what to do.
Bedbugs easily and invisibly "hitchhike" around in suitcases, clothing, bags, anything. They're translucent and the size of a pinhead to start with and in 21 days they can grow to 1/4 inch. According to The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) "bed bugs themselves are reproducing in surprising amounts, by more than 500 percent over the past few years." They are reaching epidemic proportions in the U.S. having been almost eradicated in the 50's by DDT, which is no longer approved for use by the government. I personally think we need to revisit the idea of bringing it back for inside structures where it doesn't hurt bird but you can make up your own mind on this issue. I'd gladly use it in my house this very second. Bedbugs are not just in hotels although hotels are a large contributor to their spreading existence. They are in apartments, in rental furniture and at used clothing stores in particular but are also on college campuses, in stores in places where we share spaces with each other. They don't care where they live as long as they can eat.