Don't let the bed bugs bite...


Bed bugs are no respecters of hygienic living, as my (very clean) colleague Victoria discovered when she was repeatedly bitten. The numbers of these blood-sucking insects are rising. ‘The UK was virtually free until a decade ago but due to factors including more foreign travel and secondhand furniture they are back worldwide,’ says David Cross, head of Rentokil Pest Control’s Technical Training Academy. The size and colour of an apple pip, bed bugs are wafer-thin and can hide in the tiniest of cracks by day until human warmth and exhaledm carbon dioxide lure them out for a night-time feed. Some people develop itchy, red bumps 15 to 30 minutes after being bitten – these can last for several days.

At first, Victoria thought it was fleas from her cat, but online research revealed the tell-tale signs of bed bugs: rows of bites (rather than random) and brown flecks (blood expelled so they can squeeze through small gaps) on the mattress, on sheets and around the bed frame.

All the advice she found pointed to calling in the professionals, both to get rid of them effectively and to avoid misapplying over-the-counter pesticides in excess.

Having two children with allergies (rhinitis and eczema), Victoria wanted to avoid the chemical option if possible, but discovered eco methods had their limits. Temperatures above 54C and below freezing (-34C) kill the bugs. Some eco companies offer steam treatment or ‘fumigation’ with harmless liquid nitrogen, but there is greater risk of the infestation returning, according to David Cross. ‘They are effective in contact with a bug, but if they don’t penetrate their hiding places, the bugs will go on breeding.’

Experts such as Rentokil spray pesticides around cracks or crevices where bugs may hide, so that when they come out for their nightly feed they walk over the deadly spray. There is no point in moving out, Victoria was told, as ‘you have to be in the room at night as bait: bed bugs can survive for nearly a year without a blood meal and will hide until you return’.

Rentokil recommended its Heat Pod treatment so a giant tent was erected in Victoria’s bedroom. ‘In went the bed frame, drawers and their cloth contents, suitcases from the wardrobes and anything that might house a bed bug. This was heated to 60C for an hour, to kill the bugs and their eggs. The dry heat left all our delicate fabrics unscathed,’ she reports. Rentokil also recommends five sprays of pesticide two weeks apart. After three sprays and no further bites, Victoria called it a day. ‘We are now bug-free. Our new mattresses have Sleep Safe bug-repelling covers [Eco Living Friendly/£39 for a double, from Amazon] and I threw out the clutter under my bed, stored essentials in sealed plastic boxes – and became a super-vigilant traveller [see below].’

For more information and guidance, visit NHS Choices/


● Before you book a hotel, says Rentokil’s David Cross, check online sites for any mention of problems with bed bugs.

● Inspect the hotel room before you unpack: look for live insects on the bed, walls and furniture, or blood spotting on the mattress and bed frame. Also check your luggage for bugs from the aircraft hold.

● Don’t put your case on the bed: unpack in an empty bath or shower to reduce the risk of bugs crawling on to bedding or clothing. Store your case away from fabrics.

● If you suspect bed bugs, ask to change to a different floor, not directly above or below as bed bugs can travel up and down between floors.

● At home, put your case in a bath and check for signs before you start unpacking. Even if you don’t find any evidence, wash clothing at 60 degrees centigrade.



Unlike bed bugs, the bite of an infected tick can be harmful, possibly resulting in Lyme disease, which can lead to chronic ill health. Early symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and possibly a skin rash. Covering up is vital; see About Ticks on the drop-down menu for other protective measures.