Baking Luggage May Be the Next Big Thing in Bedbug Control
Souvenirs used to be such a happy thing. Vacationers would come home with tans, tacky gifts, and noticeably happier attitudes. These days, travelers have to worry about a different type of souvenir altogether: bedbugs. Researchers have been trying to stop the pests’ spread for years, to little avail. But now an entomologist says she may have found a way: blasting the little bloodsuckers briefly with intense heat. She published her report in the journal Pest Management Science.
Catherine Loudon studies ecology and evolutionary science at the University of California, Irvine. In an experiment that might have given someone else the heebie-jeebies, Loudon loosed 250 bedbugs on a soft-sided suitcase, then subjected it to various high temperatures for varying periods of time, all the while watching the bedbugs’ behavior.
The results included lots of good news. First, within the entire period of heat treatment, only one bug managed to actually get inside the bag, and he managed that by climbing through a closed zipper. Second, and more importantly, Loudon found that it only took six minutes of high heat (between 158°F and 167°F) to kill all 250 bugs—without damaging anything inside the luggage.
Now for the not-great news. For the very reason outlined just above, this blast-furnace technique only works on bugs on the surface of a suitcase, not within it. And while this technique works, no company is currently producing a bedbug broiler for returning vacationers. Such a device is in development; in fact, Loudon used the prototype in her experiments. But rather than selling it directly to consumers, she says the manufacturer should consider providing the machine at the highest-risk sites: airports and hotels.
Until then, try not to worry about it too much. The situation is mostly out of our control, but there are some things you can do. Before booking a hotel room, check online reviews to ensure the place hasn’t had any recent outbreaks. Immediately after check-in, deposit your luggage in the bathtub, then do a visual inspection of all cloth-covered furniture in the room. Keep your clothes and luggage off the floor and off the bed. And when you get home, quarantine your belongings in sealed plastic bags and leave them outside. We’ll get through this.
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