Methods of managing bed bugs today can be traced to the first European exterminators. Among the most famous were Tiffin and Son of London, who formed a business back in 1690 to exterminate bed bugs for the wealthy.
The gas-lit sign over their shop read: “May The Destroyers Of Peace Be Destroyed By Us. Bug-Destroyers To Her Majesty.” Recognizing the constant threat of infestation, Tiffin noted: “We do the work by contract, examining the house every year. It’s a precaution to keep the place comfortable as servants are apt to bring bugs in their boxes and clothes.”
Tiffin reported finding the most bugs in beds, but cautioned “if left alone they get numerous, climb about the corners of the ceiling, and colonize anywhere they can.”
As civilization expanded, bed bugs spread throughout Europe and Asia, reaching Italy by 100 A.D., China by 600 A.D., and Germany and France in the 1200s and 1400s. Heat generated from sleeping and cooking fires allowed the bugs to live comfortably both in castles of the wealthy and huts of the working class.
The poor, however, suffered the most; an observation made in the 15th century and attributed to a lack of vigilant cleaning: “For they do not breed in beds of which the linen and straw is frequently changed, as in the houses of the rich” (DeAnimalibus Insectes, 1603).
Bed bugs were first reported in England in 1583, but were probably there earlier. Soon after, they hitchhiked their way to the Americas with European explorers and settlers. Aided by commerce, infestations initially arose in bustling seaport towns, appearing farther inland later on.
ANCIENT ORIGINS. Bed bugs have been biting people since the beginning of recorded time. Studies suggest the bugs first parasitized bats and then humans inhabiting the same caves in the Mediterranean region where civilization began. Most likely, relations between bugs and people were intermittent back then since hunters and herdsmen moved around a lot, making it harder for bed bugs to become established.
Life became easier for the bed dwellers with the formation of villages and cities. Fossilized bed bugs have been unearthed from archaeological sites dating back more than 3,500 years — a time when they were considered both pest and potion. The Egyptians, for example, drank a bed bug cocktail as a cure for snakebite.
In a cave in South Africa, archaeologists discovered the layered remains of ancient mattresses from around 77,000 years ago—and if that isn’t interesting enough, it turns out modern humans aren’t the only ones concerned about bugs between the sheets! The ancient sleeping mat’s top layer was made with insect-repelling leaves that scientists believe were used to ward off bed bugs.
Before you book any hotel, go online and check for bed bug complaints from other travelers. Trip Advisor, the Bedbug Registry and Bedbugger.com. Just keep in mind that researching a property before your trip won’t guarantee you a pest-free stay since many infestations go unreported.
Inspect the Room
Once you get your room key and step over the threshold, it’s time to get to work. At a bare minimum, you should inspect the mattress (you’ll need to remove the sheets and carefully check the seams), headboard (try removing it from the wall if you can), and side tables by the bed. If there’s a sofa bed, you’ll need to open that up too.
Keep Luggage Away from the Bed
The biggest mistake you can make is to lay your suitcase on the bed and start unpacking your clothes. In fact, you don’t even want to store your bag on the floor. Instead, use the luggage stand. Just make sure to inspect the wooden legs and cloth straps before doing so.
Use Plastic Bags for Laundry
Anything you wear in the hotel room, especially your pajamas, could come in contact with bed bugs. The smartest thing to do is to place all of your dirty laundry in a sealed plastic bag so it doesn’t contaminate your other clothing or your suitcase.
Once you get home, you should wash and dry (preferably on hot) all of your dirty laundry. For your clean clothing, you can skip the washer and just pop it in the drier.