How to Protect Yourself From Bed Bugs While Traveling
Bed bugs can be one of the most annoying and difficult pests to handle. They not only infest beds, but also anything made of cloth such as furniture, luggage or even your clothes, hitching a ride to infest surrounding buildings and even entire cities.
Paris is currently dealing with one of the worst bed bug outbreaks it has ever seen, with reports of bed bugs plaguing hotels, apartments and even buses and railways. Reports of bed bugs began circulating as the city hosted its annual Paris Fashion Week earlier this month, with many in the U.S. and Europe worrying that bed bugs could hitch a ride home with them to spread their infestation. Many around the world are also concerned that the Paris infestations could interfere with the 2024 Olympic games there next summer.
With reports of the insects now being spotted on in the London Underground, it’s not implausible that bed bugs could become a problem in the U.S. as well. In fact, Las Vegas dealt with its own bed bug problem in August of 2023. Worried about encountering bed bugs during your next meeting or event? From how to check for bed bugs—and what to do when you find them—to exploring who is liable if your booked property has an infestation, here’s everything meeting planners need to know about these pesky critters.
What You Need to Know About Bed Bug Infestations
Ben Hottel is a technical services manager at Orkin and an entomologist who earned his PhD studying bed bugs. Hottel said bed bugs can survive extremely long periods of time without food. In one experiment, Hottel placed 300 bed bugs in a container and left them without food or water for one year. When he returned to the container, there were 20 bed bugs that were still alive. Hottel says bed bugs can survive for so long by going into a form of hibernation, and they can then be “revitalized” by the Co2 in our breath.
“They could be in a room, and if you just left the room for three months, they would do nothing. They would just kind of stay in the cracks and crevices,” Hottel said. “And then when you come into it after three months, you start breathing and then they detect it, and they start scurrying around. And if you were sleeping, they would try to feed on you.”
Unlike other parasites like lice, bed bugs do not need a host to survive, and that is what makes them so dangerous and easily transmissible. This is also what makes hotels, apartments and other densely populated buildings so susceptible to bed bug infestations.
How to Check for Bed Bugs
Most people will first suspect they have bed bugs if they suddenly wake up with bites on their skin, but Hottel warns that these bites could be caused by other insects such as mosquitoes. Sometimes the bites can be identifiably bed bug bites if they are in clusters, but everyone reacts to bed bug bites differently, so it is important to confirm the presence of bed bugs through other means. If you do suspect that your hotel room or bed might have bed bugs in it, Hottel suggests conducting a thorough search to see where bed bugs could be hiding. Bed bugs are most common in places where people are resting or not moving for long periods of time. Of course, this includes your bed and bedroom, but can also include places like offices or public transportation.
To check for bed bugs in your bed, Hottel recommends taking all of the sheets off, lifting the mattress up, looking at all of the mattress seams and also lifting the box spring to check underneath the bed. Other experts also recommend spraying rubbing alcohol to help aid your inspection, since bed bugs hate rubbing alcohol and will come out. You can also look for blood stains or small black dots that look like mold or ground pepper, as those are also signs of bed bugs.
What to Do if You Find Bed Bugs
While it is important to check for bed bugs, it’s not always obvious whether a room you’re staying in has bed bugs or not. Hottel says it’s always better to assume that a room you are staying in has bed bugs, just to be safe. But if you do discover bed bugs in your room, here is what you can do to combat them.
1. Don’t Place Your Luggage Near Your Bed
To avoid bed bugs hitching a ride on your luggage, Hottel recommends keeping your suitcase as far away from your bed as possible. Some experts even recommend storing your luggage in the bathroom, since bed bugs don’t typically like to burrow away on tile flooring.
2. Dry Your Clothes on High Heat
If you suspect your clothes might have bed bugs on them, one thing you can do is to place them in the drier on high heat, which will kill the bed bugs, according to Hottel. He said that high heat is actually one of the methods that professional exterminators use to treat rooms infested with bed bugs. He also recommended dry cleaning as a way of getting bed bugs out of more sensitive clothes or clothes prone to shrinkage, as the chemicals in dry cleaning are also effective at killing bed bugs.
3. Contact the Professionals
Even with some of the “home remedies” that many people suggest for residential applications, Hottel says that many of those can make the bed bug problem worse, and that it is always smart to call in a professional exterminator to help take care of the problem rather than try to solve it yourself. Things like “bug bombs” can be dangerous and can help bed bugs spread, so it’s always better to act quickly and call a professional in as soon as you see any telltale signs of bed bugs.
Hotels vs. Meeting Planners—Who is Liable?
If you discover you have booked your meeting or event in a hotel infested with bed bugs, you might be curious about the legality and liability surrounding bed bug infestations might be, especially as it relates to planning meetings and events. We asked Joshua Grimes, of Grimes Law Offices, to shed some light on what some of the legal ramifications of bed bugs would be, both from a hotel and meeting planner perspective.
Meetings Today: What are some of the legal ramifications of a hotel having bed bugs? Are hotels required by law to get rid of them? Are there different health standards in France than the U.S. and does this vary by state?
Grimes: France and the U.S. have different health standards. And the laws pertaining to those health standards also vary. Within the U.S., the laws can also be different state-to-state. But in general, hotels have a duty to take commercially reasonable steps to protect guests against health hazards, which would include bed bugs. So, if a hotel knows of a bed infestation, the hotel generally has a duty to inspect for bed bugs and to take measures to stop the spread. If a hotel fails to do that, it could be liable for negligence. More important, however, would be the potential damage an infestation could cause to a hotel's reputation.
Meetings Today: Is there a requirement for the hotels to disclose if bed bugs are found to guests and/or planners who might have large blocks of rooms booked for a meeting or business event?
Grimes: From a strictly legal perspective, there is probably not a duty for a hotel to disclose a bed bug infestation. An exception would be if a hotel meeting contract required the hotel to disclose any health concerns. But if a planner or guest specifically asks if a hotel experienced an infestation, the hotel could incur liability by failing to disclose, particularly if a guest is bitten and suffers an injury.
Meetings Today: If a meeting planner does discover that a host hotel or property has bed bugs, what are their options from a legal perspective? Would this be cause for them getting out of whatever contract they signed? Would this be a force majeure example or more negligence on the hotel's part?
Grimes: A planner or guest's options in response to a known bed bug infestation would depend on the terms of the hotel contract. Given the current situation, it may be wise for planners to include a "no bed bug" clause in the contract, allowing the group or guests to cancel the contract in the event of an infestation. Absent that clause, a solid "hotel quality" or "force majeure" clause may include grounds that would allow cancellation. The planner or guest's rights really vary depending on the contract's terms. Further, any right to cancel would be more uncertain if a significant period of time passed between the report of the infestation and a planner's meeting, particularly if the hotel can demonstrate they took appropriate action to remediate the problem. It seems unlikely that cancellation could be an option unless the infestation was reported just prior to the meeting, and/or it is known that the hotel took no action to fix the problem.
Meetings Today: Can meeting/event planners also be held liable if they don't disclose bed bugs to their attendees? What level of harm or distress do bed bugs or other pests typically cause in those cases?
Grimes: I highly recommend that meeting/event planners disclose any known risks—bed bugs or anything else—to their attendees when they become aware of them. Failure to disclose can not only lead to damages if a guest suffers injuries from bug bites, but it can also be a public relations nightmare for the meeting host. Better to inform attendees of the problem and outline the steps that the hotel and meeting group are taking to remediate the situation than to cause guests to lose confidence that the organizers are not working to ensure their safety.
Meetings Today: How much would meeting planners be held liable if bed bugs are found in a hotel they booked their meeting at?
Grimes: There could be legal liability to a planner and meeting host if they know of a bed bug infestation but take no steps to ensure that the hotel is remediating the problem and making the hotel safe. In that event, liability would be for guests' injuries, as well as the costs for lawyers and distractions of defending against lawsuits. Hotels have the same risk of liability, both to the guests and possibly also to the meeting host and planner. I cannot put a dollar figure on that liability, but it would almost always be less expensive for the hotel to address an infestation and take all reasonable steps to make it go away.
Throughout all of these stories, it is always important for both consumers and meeting planners to remain vigilant for bed bugs. You never know who might have stayed in your room the night before and you never know what could be crawling around.
As Hottel said, it’s always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to bed bugs, and bed bugs can be found anywhere, even in the nicest hotels in the world. So even if you are staying at a five-star resort, make sure you take proper precautions to protect yourself both physically and legally from the ramifications of a bed bug infestation.
Read this next: A Risk Management Checklist to Help Avoid Disaster