The recent resurgence in bed bug infestations worldwide, particularly in developed countries, is giving travelers cause for concern. Although bed bugs do not transmit diseases, their bites may be a nuisance. Travelers can take measures to avoid bed bug bites and avoid transporting them in luggage and clothing. Everyone is at risk for getting bed bugs when visiting an infected area. However, anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.
Bed bugs are usually transported from place to place as people travel. The bed bugs travel in the seams and folds of luggage, overnight bags, folded clothes, bedding, furniture, and anywhere else where they can hide. Most people do not realize they are transporting stow-away bed bugs as they travel from location to location, infecting areas as they travel. Anyone who travels frequently and shares living and sleeping quarters where other people have previously slept has a higher risk of being bitten and or spreading a bed bug infestation.
A bed bug bite affects each person differently. Bite responses can range from an absence of any physical signs of the bite, to a small bite mark, to a serious allergic reaction. Bed bugs are not considered to be dangerous; however, an allergic reaction to several bites may need medical attention.
When bed bugs bite, they inject an anesthetic and an anticoagulant that prevents a person from realizing they are being bitten. Most people do not realize they have been bitten until bite marks appear anywhere from one to several days after the initial bite. The bite marks are similar to that of a mosquito or a flea — a slightly swollen and red area that may itch and be irritating.
The best way to treat a bite is to avoid scratching the area and apply antiseptic creams or lotions and take an antihistamine. Bed bug infestations are commonly treated by insecticide spraying. Minimal symptomatic treatment and good hygiene to prevent itching and secondary infections are usually sufficient treatment for most cases of bed bug bites.
A wide range of empirical treatments, including antibiotics, antihistamines, topical and oral corticosteroids, and epinephrine have been used for bite reactions with varying results. In more extensive or severe cases, topical steroid creams with or without systemic anti-H1 receptor antihistamines may be given. Topical antibiotics or systemic antibiotics may be needed in the case of secondary infection.