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Would You Know A Bed Bug if You Saw It? Most Travelers Wouldn't

Update Date: Jun 14, 2017 03:50 PM EDT

According to a new survey conducted by the University of Kentucky, hotel-goers are more grossed out by bed bugs than dirty linens. But only 28 percent of leisure travelers and 35 percent of business travelers could correctly identify a bed bug in an insect lineup.

"Considering all the media attention paid to bed bugs in recent years, the fact that most travelers still have a poor understanding of them is troubling," study co-author Dr. Michael Potter said.

Especially for those who pay attention to online reviews.

"From a hotel industry perspective, it's worrisome that a single online report of bed bugs would cause the majority of travelers to book different accommodations, irrespective of whether the report is accurate. Furthermore, the incident could have involved only one or a few rooms, which the hotel previously eradicated," study lead author Dr. Jerrod M. Penn added.

According to Dr. Potter, the public's misunderstanding of bed bugs is spreading through society like wildfire, leaving the hospitality industry to deal with the pests and customers' ill-informed attitudes.

"Hotels and others in the hospitality sector should develop a reputation management plan to prudently respond to online reports of bed bugs in their facility," senior author Dr. Wuyang Hu said. "Hotels should also train their housekeeping and engineering staffs to recognize and report bed bugs in the earliest possible stages, when infestations are more manageable. Similarly important is training front desk and customer service employees to respond promptly and empathetically when incidents arise within the hotel."

Bed Bug 101: What to Look For

Bed bugs are small, flat, wingless bugs with six legs. While they can range in color from white to brown, they turn rust red after feeding. Bed bugs don't typically grow any longer than .2 inches, but are still visible to the naked eye.

"An adult bedbug is about the size of a tick - small, brownish and flattened," Dr. Potter said. "But the immature [stage] of that bug, things we call nymphs, can be very tiny. A newly hatched nymph that comes out of an egg is not much bigger than the head of a pin."

If you're unable to see the actual bed bugs themselves, then you should look for fecal spotting, which Dr. Potter describes as "black speckly spots that they leave on mattresses and bed frames and other surfaces."

What to Do

If you think there's a bed bug problem at your hotel, alert the front desk and ask if you can be relocated to another room.

"It would be prudent to request a room further away than the one you're in because bugs do tend to move," Dr. Potter noted.

As an added precaution, Dr. Potter recommends leaving your suitcase zipped and placed on a firm surface.

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