When the Bed Bugs Bite

Date: August 13, 2013

The AFA MEC Hotel and Transportation Committee receives reports from time to time about Cimex Lectularius, commonly referred to as bed bugs. While we are not receiving more than normal amount of reports, a timely reminder on this issue can prevent an unwanted visitor from creating a problem. Issues with bed bugs can be particularly tenacious to deal with, as the pests are not easily controlled through common pest control measures, and can readily spread through their ability to hide away in your luggage.

Lack of proper housekeeping care and cleanliness can be a factor, but keep in mind they can be found in any sort of establishment from a five-star resort to a one-star motel. If a room is infested by this pest, it is essential that you report the issue immediately to the hotel as well as TVLLOG the incident immediately, remembering to include your specific room number in your report.

There are several different scenarios one may encounter and the list of action items for all is similar and different in some aspects:

How to check for bed bugs in your hotel room:

  1. Peel back the bed sheets and check the mattress, running your fingers along the upper and lower seams. Make sure to check the mattress tag, bed bugs often hide there.
  2. Experts recommend removing and examining the headboard if possible. Check for tiny black spots (excrement) that are smaller than poppy seeds. You may also see translucent light brown skins or, in the case of an infestation— live bugs.
  3. Check the bedside table. Look for signs of bed bugs in the drawers and along the wall on the side of the bed that is less likely to be disturbed by cleaning staff and guests.  
  4. You may want to elevate suitcases and keep them off the floor, like on a luggage stand.  Do not place suitcase or tot on bed.
  5. If you see powder in the drawers or on the headboard, it is likely that the room has already been treated for bed bugs by an exterminator.
  6. If bed bugs are detected, you should request another room. Be sure to inform hotel management.
  7. Just moving to a different room may not be the total answer. You should repeat the thorough inspection of any new or different room you are offered. 
  8. When you pack to leave, inspect your luggage carefully first, and inspect every item as you pack to help detect any bugs or their signs. Laundering most cloth items with typical hot water (120 degrees F) and detergent followed by drying on low heat for at least 20 minutes (or standard dry cleaning) should kill all bed bugs in or on such items. Sealing freshly-laundered items inside a plastic bag should help keep any more bed bugs from getting in those items later to hide (and be carried back with you). 

If you find bed bugs during your initial room inspection:

  1. Do try to capture or kill the bug.  Don’t give the bug to the hotel. (Put it in a sealed plastic baggie, if available) If they insist, take pictures with your cell phone. 
  2. Do call hotel management immediately and ask for a new room.  Do make them send the hotel engineer and/or head housekeeper up to inspect the infected room.  Do get names of all hotel personnel who deal with the incident.
  3. Upon home arrival, do inspect luggage before bringing it into your house. Vacuum thoroughly, just to be sure.
  4. Do fill out a TVLLOG report and include your room number.  This bit of information is very important for thorough follow up.  Do send the specimen to AFA for bug verification or keep it until it’s no longer necessary for follow up.
  5. Don’t think that it cannot happen if you are in 5-Star property.  Rooms may be cleaned quickly by housekeeping with little time to notice bug infestations. Often, hotels become aware of problems just by guest reporting, as deep cleaning happens as little as once a year. 
  6. Don’t accept a new room unless it is thoroughly inspected, preferably in conjunction with hotel employees. 

If you discover bug bites while on your layover:

  1. Realize not all bites are from bed bugs.  There may be detergents that cause rashes or markings that look like bites. Different bugs may be present (ants, roaches, spiders). Bed bugs will most likely bite uncovered areas of the body.  If in doubt, seek qualified medical care. 
  2. Do look for the bugs in your bed. Take pictures of the bites and/or the bugs, if found.
  3. Remember bed bugs hide during the day and feed at night. Look carefully in mattress crevices, on head boards and night tables, on wooden luggage holders (metal holders are ideal), on curtains, rugs, lamps, picture frames, floor cracks, wall outlets – any small space.
  4. Don’t delay in calling hotel management to be moved out of the infested room, regardless of time of day.  Inspect, along with hotel personnel, the new room for bugs.  Get names of all hotel personnel that deal with problem.
  5. Do arrange cleaning reimbursement through hotel for all clothing in suitcase of infected room.  If there are confirmed bed bugs, hotel should assume all costs of making sure bugs do not hitchhike home with you.  Or, do wash all clothing in hot water and clean all other items that were in an infected room.  Thoroughly vacuum suitcases and other items after inspection. Vacuum bags should be immediately disposed in sealed plastic bags.
  6. Do seek medical care immediately if needed.  If on International layover, call SOS Medaire, who can recommend a treatment medical facility such as a Concentra center if treatment is needed immediately.  They should arrange for payment of any medical expenses incurred.  Call the Flight Attendant Service Team to report the incident and place yourself on sick leave, if necessary.
  7. The company currently requires reporting Occupational injuries/illnesses within 24 hours, however AFA has argued reporting may not be possible within that time frame.  Don’t delay reporting the bites to United.  You can find the latest Immediate Actions Checklist for Occupational injury/illness claims on the AFA MEC website as well.
  8. After arriving home, do fill out a TVLLOG and include the number of the infested room.  This is very important for follow up and documentation.  Note that while a single bed bug report may not necessarily cause AFA to disapprove a hotel, multiple reports indicate a hotel is not doing due diligence in addressing bug reports and will cause an AFA disapproval.

If you discover bed bugs or bug bites after your layover stay:

  1. Realize it can take up to a week before an allergic reaction to bed bug bites appear. Reactions can escalate later.
  2. Upon discovery of bites, do call Concentra or SOS Medaire for post layover bite care instructions.  Again, they should cover expenses incurred.  Do file Occupational reports keeping in mind the Company’s imposed guidelines for reporting.  Expeditious reporting after occurrences is of utmost importance.
  3. Look for the bugs.  Don’t assume they are gone.  Do inspect suitcases, purses, backpacks, and computer bags with a bright flashlight for signs of bugs.  Using a hot hair dryer may flush them out of hiding places and cracks. It is most important to keep any found bugs for occupational verification.  For a nominal fee, some bed bug experts can provide identification of mailed specimens or images. 
  4. Do wash all clothing in hot water and clean all other items that were in an infected room.  Thoroughly vacuum suitcases and other items after inspection. Vacuum bags should be immediately disposed in sealed plastic bags.
  5. Don’t forget to file a TVLLOG, including the room number.  The TVLLOG data base is an invaluable tool in trending these occurrences and AFA will act accordingly when evaluating all reports of bug infestations.

Post hotel incident follow up:

  1. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) bed bugs don’t spread disease.  The bigger factor associated with bed bugs may be the mental aspect associated with bug bites in your hotel room.  If you have concerns realize that AFA’s EAP is versed in dealing with very real worries and “fear factors.”  If you are struggling with emotional issues in the aftermath of an encounter with bed bugs, don’t hesitate to contact them. 
  2. Don’t fall for high priced fake bed bug treatments, which are expanding with the growing number of bed bug infestations.  The AARP states it’s best to ignore ionic, ultrasonic or electromagnetic contraptions advertised on TV or the Internet.  Also, stay away from buying aerosol “bug bombs” or other off-the-shelf products which have insecticides that may cause more harm than good. 
  3. Do find reputable pest control specialists who can show you government-issued licenses and proven experience and make sure to get referrals. The National Pest Management Association offers a zip code search for local pros with NPMA certification.
  4. Do get written estimates of work to be done keeping in mind it may take several treatments, but be wary of companies that state they must come back every month. Professional inspection and treatment can costly, depending on the type of dwelling, location and extent of infestation. 
  5. Use of canines are the latest growing trend of bed bug detectors.  If you use a canine detection service, ask for the dog’s National Entomology Scent Detection Association certificate. 

The worst case scenario for Flight Attendants would be involuntarily bringing bedbugs into your home, therefore, it is imperative we remain situationally aware of our surroundings while on layover.  Being cautious in looking for and avoiding these tiny pests can alleviate much future anguish.  Again, reporting remains the key: make sure the AFA MEC Hotel and Transportation Committee is copied in on reports by filing a TVLLOG. 

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