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Don't let the bedbugs bite; The little suckers are back

Before your trip

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Wayne White is a board certified entomologist who works for American Pest in Takoma Park, Md. He shows how to inspect a hotel room bed for bedbugs.

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Prevention starts at home. Even if you've never seen the bugs in your boudoir, White recommends sealing your mattress and box spring in clear plastic or vinyl coverings. Choose a mattress model without handles or seams, eliminating hiding spots. Major retailers such as Walgreens and Sears sell the encasements. He also suggests placing the legs of the bed inside an insect interceptor, a ringed plastic saucer that creates a slippery surface as treacherous as Everest after an icestorm. The container traps the bugs so that they can't venture north to your mattress.

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"This will help you inspect and detect the problem," said White. It will also stanch migration from your house to the wide, wide world.

Also, before booking a hotel, check the Bed Bug Registry (bedbugregistry.com) for reports. A recent submission for the Trump Plaza and Casino in Atlantic City, for instance, stated, "Got bit to death here."

At the hotel

Before sniffing the toiletries or perusing the minibar, conduct a bed inspection. Prep your station: Slip on disposable plastic gloves and keep a strong flashlight at the ready. A magnifying glass with LED illumination will also come in handy; the eggs are pinprick-small.

Start with the headboard, a favorite hiding spot. Many hotel headboards aren't attached to the bed but hang on brackets like a utilitarian piece of art. Lay the piece on the bed and inspect the wall for the telltale signs of infestation: black specks (the - ick - fecal matter), molten sheddings (like pencil shavings) or the bugs themselves (in their various stages of life). Also scan the corners of the headboard.

If the board does not disassemble without heavy machinery, run a piece of white paper (try the breakfast-order card) along the wall and board. The idea is to scrape up some bugs or force them out of their redoubt.

Now, it's time to attack the bed.

Start with the duvet and the sheets, studying them top to bottom before pulling them back to reveal the next layer. Inspect the seams, edges and any puckering sections of fabric. Fortunately, most hotels dress their beds in snowy white linens, so the bugs will stand out.

Rather than tearing off the sheets, fold them in the middle - the easier to remake the bed. When you reach the mattress, remove the cover, paying special attention to the folds, seams, piping and other sneaky hideouts.

Next, slide off the mattress and inspect the box spring. (If it's too heavy, push it aside enough to expose as much of the bottom foundation as possible.) Check the underside, and don't forget the corner protectors (if they are opaque, peel them off). "Take the box spring out of the frame and look around the base," advises White. Because of their claws, bedbugs prefer fabric they can cling to, but scan the metal frame just in case.

Finally, remove the dust ruffles or, if they're stapled to the bed, flash your light in the folds and along the edges.

At this point, your bed will look as if it has been mauled by a mercurial Sandman. But on a more positive note: If you haven't uncovered any evidence of uninvited guests, they're most likely not inhabiting your lair.

"If I hadn't found anything on the headboard, mattress, box spring or frame, I'd end the inspection," said White. "I'm not gonna spend an extra hour worth of my time."

However, if you're especially concerned about bites (about 50 percent of people break out in itchy welts; the other half have no reaction) or are an entomophobe, broaden your search to the outlying furnishings. Look in the drawers of the nightstand, for instance, among the creases of the curtains and deep in the closet.

If you do find evidence, go to the front desk and ask for a room change. Also, inquire about the property's pest-management plan. If they don't have one, the whole hotel could be infested. Start racking your brain for the name of that hotel you passed right off the exit.

If you agree to a reassignment, avoid the rooms adjacent to and across from your original one, as well as those on the floors directly above and below it. It's also within your rights to ask the manager to conduct an inspection of your new room. Use this downtime to toast your CSI-caliber skills.

Unpacking and storage

The worst place to keep your clothes is on the bed. The bugs will take one look at those soft warm piles and think, "Our upholstered chariot awaits."

Create some distance between the bed and your luggage. Store your bag atop the armoire, for instance, or in the main room of a suite. Avoid the luggage rack, which White calls "a way station" for bugs, because of the constant transference of guests' bags. The middle of the room is also preferable to the periphery.

To really safeguard your belongings, slip your luggage into a plastic or vinyl cover, preferably one with a small-toothed zipper (harder for them to slip through) and a latch to secure the closure. Avoid products with seams and handles, which bugs can burrow into. Another option: Store your clothes in Ziploc bags. You can keep them in your luggage or in the bureau, just remember to always zip that loc after use.

The closet is also a potential hazard, thanks to those dark, cozy corners. If you want to leave your shoes on the floor, encase them in sealed plastic bags. For clothes that need to stay vertical, hang them on the shower rod. The bathroom, with its slick surfaces, is a veritable safety zone. In fact, if you really want to outsmart the bugs, sleep in the tub and stash your clothes in the sink.

After checking out

Whether you're returning home or moving on to another hotel, it's wise to hit the laundry room - the dryer specifically. Bed bugs can't survive the heat.

White suggests tossing your clothes into a dryer set on low or medium. Let it spin for 15 to 30 minutes and don't think about what the lint basket might catch. (Washing, by the way, won't do the deed: 33 percent of bedbugs and a whopping 98 percent of eggs survive a normal cycle.) In the heat of summer, you can also leave your bag roasting in the car. A road trip they'll never forget.

Once home, leave your suitcase in the garage and store it in a large leaf or garbage bag between trips. If you are a frequent traveler, you might consider the PackTite, a portable heating unit that disinfects your luggage and its contents. The more DIY method is to toss your belongings in the dryer, and rest assured that those bed bugs' traveling days are not just numbered but over.

For more information on bedbug prevention: www.pestworld.org or www.ahla.com.


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