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THIS COLUMN IS GOING TO BUG YOU
By Michael Matthews
September 2, 2010 -- You might not want to read this, either because you are squeamish or you're already bored with the media's saturation coverage. Sorry if your thinking is either way because I am going to tackle the subject anyway.

I have written about them before. In fact, it was the third column I wrote when Do Not Disturb launched in 2004. Then I said they were becoming a damned nuisance. Now they are more than that. They are, well, a "plague." After all, if you can have a plague of locusts, why not a plague of bedbugs?

Don't think it's a plague? Google "bedbug." As of yesterday, there were 3,960,000 results. That is more than triple the number of links that Google found just last week.

Yes, I have been munched on by those little buggers. It happened in a hotel in Alderney in the Channel Islands in the early 1960s. It was my last up close and personal encounter because, in the intervening years, the pesticide DDT had virtually eliminated them. But with the use of DDT in particular banned and the developed world increasingly squeamish about synthetic pesticides in general, bedbugs are back with a vengeance. And, in a way, I don't blame them. If you were nearly eliminated by chemicals and then got a reprieve, wouldn't you come back fighting?

From a strictly clinical standpoint, bedbugs can't actually cause much physical harm. Their bite is not poisonous and they are not known to pass diseases from one person to another. Other than drawing a pin prick of blood, they are generally pretty harmless. The bites cause a minor red welt, smaller and less itchy than most mosquito bites.

However, the bite marks are not very pretty. In fact, they look like a rash. Sometimes the marks are mistaken for poison ivy. Although bedbugs can and do bite almost anywhere on your body, they prefer to attack the warmer bits, which can cause you angst if spotted by your better half when you return from a trip.

Enough said on where they feast. Let's consider how they get in your hotel bed in the first place.

Bedbugs don't discriminate between a Four Seasons and Motel Six. They do not prefer a rucksack over a Louis Vuitton suitcase. They just jump aboard whatever's handy and travel from place to place. On arrival, they don't demand a room with a view or accommodations on a high floor. They accept where they are taken, be it the Presidential suite or room over the garbage disposal. (In that way, at least, they are a hotelier's dream client.)

Then bedbugs tuck themselves into the mattress, the headboard, the sheets, and other dark places and crevasses in your room. They await your arrival to have dinner--after all, you are the ultimate room service special entree. After dinner, they will probably make love, something they do about 300 times in their three-year life span. They produce three eggs at a time and the eggs hatch every 10 days.

Come morning, they will probably check out with you. They'll hide in anything from the cuffs of your trousers, the collar of your jacket, the hem on your dress, the creases in your shoes and, of course, your luggage. They leave their eggs behind, something I was never able to do with my kids.

En route to your next destination, a few of their number may part ways with you and hitch a ride in someone else's baggage. (The overhead bins are a great way to change transport and one or two may well get off there.) Others may make their way from your trouser cuffs to the folds in your neighbor's socks.

So what can you do to avoid them?

I suppose you could check your mattress and headboard and between the sheets. Then check the curtains, drawer corners, chair cushions and every other crevice in your room. Look for a tiny, oval, brown bug-like creature about 4 millimeters long. You might also look for pellets of feces or yellowing bits of cast-off skins.

You could also sniff for a disturbingly sweet, sickly smell. Yes, bedbugs smell.

But here's the truth: It's unlikely you'll find any. Bedbugs hide very well and you'll just be wasting good bar time. My advice? Render to the bar the time that belongs to the bar.

If, however, you do spot or smell something, grab your bags and get the hell out of the room. Find the manager and demand a new room. Threaten to call the health department--and do not take no for an answer.

To be honest, however, I would go further and leave the hotel entirely. It's probably infested and a room change won't protect you.

I wish I could give you better advice. But, at least for the moment, bedbugs appear to be unstoppable. And they seem intent on world domination

Worst of all, until we find something as effective as DDT, bedbugs are here to stay. All I can do is wish you well and say, "Night, night. Hope the bedbugs don't bite."

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright 2010 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.