Guests are dinner: bed bug fiesta


Shut the doors, they’re coming in the windows – actually their being carried in by hotel guests. They are not “little ladies of the night,” and they do not stop at the check-in counter. They are tiny monsters that dine on human blood and procreate faster than rabbits. They cannot be seduced by food or drugs and unlike other insects, they are extremely expensive to eradicate (and never totally eliminated).

They cause hotel executive housekeepers to have nightmares, while customer service employees and public relations executives lose their cool. They are, of course, the notorious bed bug and belong to the family of pests known as Cimex lectularius (insects that feed on human and animal blood to survive). Wingless, they move from place to place by attaching themselves to human beings, luggage, shopping bags, car and airplane seats, and just about anything else that has dark nooks and crannies for them to crawl into and hide.

According to Dr. Michael Potter of the University of Kentucky, bed bugs have been feasting on humans since “…the beginning of recorded time.” Dr. Potter believes that the bugs started in the Mediterranean region as parasites on bats and then moved along to the humans who were sharing the same caves. At the time, hunters and herdsmen moved frequently, and the bed bug problem did not escalate. About 3,500 years ago, as nomads discarded their wandering ways and set up permanent homes, the bugs started to proliferate.

Bed bugs have not always been despised. The Egyptians drank bed bug cocktails as a cure for snakebites; the Greeks and Romans burned them to make leeches loosen their hold and some ancient civilizations, believing they cured diseases, feasted on them with wine, beans, and eggs.

No Promise of Quality
From Disney hotels and cruise ships, to Hiltons and Holiday Inns, bed bugs have been feasting on travelers for years; however, it appears that the problem is growing, and there is little that can be done about it. The Daily News-Marist polls found that 1 in 10 New Yorkers has experienced home invasions from bed bugs, twice as many as in 2009. The poll also determined that Democrats had more bed bugs than Republicans (12 percent vs. 2 percent). Bedbugs have made headlines in Winnipeg, and the officials in Toronto are mounting a bedbug summit to review ways to approach the problem. David Letterman has added bedbugs to his list of things of joke about.

New York City recently allocated US$500,000 to combat the problem and is considering naming a bedbug czar. Cincinnati, Ohio, has been identified as the bedbug capital of the USA in a Time Magazine article and to escape the problem, people are sleeping in the streets. The problem is so huge that Ohio health officials are meeting with the Department of Defense and other federal agencies in order to combat the problem.

A client of Florida attorney, Howard Cintron, counted 700 bedbug bites after spending only one night at a luxury hotel. On a Hilton NY guest (April 15, 2010) had many bites on arms and legs after spending 9 nights at the property. Another Hilton NY guest (August 14, 2010) describes her experience, “My husband was bitten by bed bugs numerous times on his torso and underarm.” They notified the property by email and telephone calls but were “ignored.”

Why do hoteliers and cruise ships try to deny their bedbug invasion? First of all, the pest control remedies are very expensive and reported to be (at a minimum) between US$900 and US$1,500 per inspection. However, if a heating or freezing treatment is required, the costs escalate to US$2,000 per treatment, and it takes several visits to destroy bugs and eggs. A full-blown invasion could cost in excess of US$50,000-US$60,000. Treatments include pyrethroid chemicals, cold/heat applications, steam, and vacuuming. Trained beagles are sometimes used at a cost of US$1,200 per unit. Additional expenditures include negative publicity, the erosion of brand value, keeping rooms out-of-inventory for weeks or months, a decline in room reservations, and a corresponding loss in restaurant and bar revenue.

According to Professors Alvaro Romero, Michael Potter, and Kenneth Haynes, the current arsenal of products used to keep the bedbugs at bay may be losing potency. In their study they found that bedbugs that had never been exposed to pyrethroids suffered 100 percent mortality, while other strains were essentially immune to the treatments. There is concern that the resistance “while not universal may be widespread.” The findings were “…worrisome but not unexpected.” What the researchers found troubling is that there are few alternatives to pyrethroid as other viable options are regulatory restricted in use. While dusts containing silica gel or diatomaceous earth kill pyrethroid-resistant bugs, the “…utility of dusts is limited by where they can be legally or prudently applied.”

Step It Up A Notch
Up to this point, bedbug bites have been considered to be an annoyance, but not a serious medical problem. However, recently Professors Potter, Haynes and Romero have reported that infection from the bites is a possibility, “Community acquired MRSA (methicillin resistant Staphlocococcus aureus) is a growing concern and at least one lawsuit has been filed claiming a connection between bedbug bites and MRSA.”

I Will Sue You
According to Attorney Cintron, many bedbug lawsuits are settled out of court and linked to confidentiality agreements; however, there is a reported Helmsley Enterprise case (2004) resulted in US$150,000 settlement. In 2009, a hotel guest sued La Coquille Motel in Virginia Beach, Virginia for US$100,000 because of the medical and psychological damage to a family member from bedbug bites. In New York, a Chicago woman sued a hotel for US$20 million after waking up with over 600 bites.

In another law suit at a Hilton in Ohio, the guest was asking for US$5 million claiming she received 1,050 bedbug bites on her hands, feet, face, fingers, legs, neck, chest, stomach, and genitals. She claimed that she was left physically scarred and emotionally damaged; therefore, the hotel breached its duty to provide reasonably safe accommodations and as a direct result of the negligence the hotel breached its duty to provide a reasonably safe place leading to “embarrassing injury and tremendous emotional distress.”

In the case of Mathias v. Accor Economy Lodging, Inc. and Motel 6 Operating L.P the Seventh US Circuit Court of Appeals awarded US$372,000 to two plaintiffs who were bitten by bedbugs after they checked into a Motel 6. During the proceedings it was disclosed that management knew there was an infestation, and the room had not been treated.

Check It Out Before Checking In
Adam Greenberg of US recommends:

1. Conduct a thorough search of your hotel room or cruise ship cabin before accepting the accommodations and settling in.

2. Take a flashlight and check mattresses, bed linens, head boards, baseboards, and the areas where the floor and carpet meet.

3. Look for little dark spots that could be dust – but are likely to be bedbug fecal matter.

4. Do not place luggage on the floor, on or under the bed; keep the luggage on the luggage rack with an industrial strength plastic bag underneath and live out of the suitcase or use BugZip® Bed Bug Resistant Luggage Encasements ( ).

5. Cosmetics and toiletries should be kept in plastic bags and closed – not placed on surfaces.

6. Passive bedbug monitors placed on the nightstand can identify the presence of bedbugs as they enter and exit before and after “dinner.” They are easily packed into a suitcase and quickly eliminated at the end of the trip.

What Hotels and Airlines are Doing
Dr. Ron Harrison, Director of Technical Services for Orkin Commercial Services, reminds us that not everyone bitten will have a physical reaction. In a study of 1,400 people, less than 5 percent reacted to a bite while others may have a delayed reaction, not showing any red spots for 1-2 days, or longer.

In an attempt to deal with the problem, some hotels are installing heating/freezing units at the properties so that guests can have their clothing and suitcases heated or chilled rather than destroyed. As pilots and cabin crew employees add their complaints about being bitten by bed bugs to airline management, the companies are establishing new protocols to deal the problem, which seems to be significant on international/overnight flights.

“We encourage hotels to train housekeeping personnel to do thorough room inspections on a regular basis. When they pull off the sheets, they should inspect the top and bottom of the mattress and box spring,” Harrison commented. “He also suggests that all hoteliers consider the Japanese hotel style where rooms are cleaned and sanitized by heating each unit when the guest checks out. This room design would make it easier to keep rooms free of vermin and contain costs while creating a sanitary environment.”

It’s A Bugs Life
They dine at night, sleep by day, have hundreds of babies, have no known predator, and there are no known chemicals that will absolutely exterminate them; it appears that the bedbug problem will get only get bigger and more expensive until some smart entomologist figures out a new way to obliterate them. We can only hope to return to the time when “…don’t let the bedbugs bite” made absolutely no sense at all.