Friday, September 17, 2010 at 11:27 a.m.
As seasoned travelers, they are among the most feared and reviled in the hospitality industry, mounting their stealth attacks on unsuspecting hotel guests in the middle of the night and scurrying away to their hiding places before the light of day.
They are the dreaded bedbug, and while these pernicious pests are not known to carry any disease, their growing presence is fueling heightened anxiety among not only the traveling public but also hoteliers fearful of the bugs sullying their good reputations.
Although there is no formal process for documenting bedbug infestations, pest control companies report their numbers are multiplying rapidly across the country, especially in more populous areas and tourist destinations like San Diego that are more vulnerable to the tiny travelers.
Not only must local hotels combat the stigma of suspected bedbugs (especially when they’re outed online), but they also face hefty costs in eradicating the resilient critters, which rely on human blood for their sustenance.
“I think the concern is warranted because they can cause quite a bit of discomfort, including psychological distress,” said Vicki Kramer, chief of the vector-borne disease program for the California Department of Public Health. “Knowing that when you’re sleeping these bugs are crawling and feeding on you for several minutes is not acceptable to most people.”
Well aware of the rapid rise of the bedbug problem, hoteliers are taking a defensive posture, training their housekeeping staffs how to recognize the telltale signs of the reddish-brown, flat bugs, which hide in cracks and crevices, the seams of mattresses and box springs and behind headboards. Just a quarter-inch long, they’re especially agile, moving between rooms through electrical sockets, and marking their presence with small bloodstains and clusters of darker spots, which is their digested blood.
Some San Diego hotels have gone to the added expense of encasing their mattresses in special protective pads that are said to keep bedbugs out. Still others schedule regular inspections by licensed exterminators, who rely on chemical applications, as well as heat and freezing to destroy the pests.
“Identifying the problem is the best defense because if you don’t, it can go to four rooms, and that’s four mattresses you have to throw away, which is a significant cost,” said Pat McTighe, director of sales and marketing for the Hotel Indigo.
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