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Take precautions unless you’re itching to sleep with bedbugs

More than a month has passed since a friend of a friend told me about her stay at a luxury Las Vegas hotel, where she woke up to discover she had become a bedbug snack. She had angry welts on her body. (The devils didn’t touch her husband sleeping next to her.)

Realize, when I was little, my mother would often say “Sleep tight” and add, “Don’t let the bedbugs bite.” Never fazed me. As a child.

But now that bedbug infestations are a real problem around the world, that cheerful good night isn’t so cute. The night after I heard about this woman’s experience, I couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning so much the cat decided to sleep elsewhere.

Then I began worrying that when I next travel, I might become a midnight snack for bedbugs.

Finally, for my own peace of mind, I researched what precautions travelers should take.

Here’s practical advice from the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program at Cornell University:

“Always inspect before settling into any room. Pack a flashlight (even the keychain LED variety) and gloves to aid in your inspection. The inspection should focus around the bed. Start with the headboard, which is usually held on the wall with brackets. Lift up 1-2 inches, then lean the top away from the wall to gain access to the back. If you’re traveling alone, someone on staff should help. After checking the headboard, check sheets and pillows for blood spots. Next, pull back the sheets. Check the piping of the mattress and box spring. Finally, look in and under the drawer of the bedside table. If all these places are clear, enjoy the night. The next morning, look for blood spots on the sheets — bed bugs poop soon after they feed.”

They’re tiny little things, look a bit like spilled coffee grounds, but they love to hide in crevices, so that’s where to look.

Of course, if you find bedbugs, stop screaming and contact the hotel or motel managers and ask for another room. Make sure it’s a room that doesn’t share a common wall with the one with bedbugs; they could be there, too.

More preventive advice: Pack your clothes using plastic bags that seal tight. Don’t put your luggage or purse on the bed or a carpeted floor. Use the luggage rack, after checking it out, or put your bags in the bathtub.

Once home, for heaven’s sakes don’t put your luggage on your bed, even if you haven’t found bedbugs. Wash your clothes in hot water.

Before you go, there’s a website called bedbugregistry.com. Of course, reading it will give you nightmares and, frankly, bedbugs seem to be everywhere; so reviewing that just makes a traveler want to stay home. Or it might give you a false sense of security.

The infestation, which is now everywhere, was nearly eradicated in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. That’s when the pesticide DDT was popular. Then DDT was banned as dangerous. Bedbugs came back like Genghis Khan on a rampage.

On my May road trip, I did everything wrong, putting my purse and luggage on the bed first, then the floor, never checking anything. Yet I had a bedbug-free experience staying in different places every night. But after talking to just one bedbug victim, the fear of waking up with welts on my face and body is enough to make me change my nonchalant ways.

As I write this, my neck is starting to itch. Really. It would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic how susceptible I am to the power of suggestion when it comes to creepy crawlies.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison.

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