How to avoid picking up bedbugs in public? Signs of an infestation and how to treat it

16 October 2023, 11:15 | Updated: 16 October 2023, 11:20

Everything to know about the 'bedbug invasion'.
Everything to know about the 'bedbug invasion'. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

As concerns grow about a potential bedbug invasion in the UK, here's everything to know about the creepy critters.

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Following a suspected sighting on the Tube, Londoners fear that they too will have to chuck out their mattresses and disinfect their homes.

Bedbugs can be picked up in any public space but travelling during the holidays often leads to a spike in the number of critters as they often attach themselves to luggage.

Some experts have suggested the best course of action to avoid picking them up is to check hotels for bedbugs when travelling, avoid unpacking your luggage into hotel drawers and keep your suitcase off the hotel bed.

When returning home from your trip, unpack your clothes outside your bedroom and on a hard floor to increase visibility of any potential critters and then vacuum.

How long do bedbugs live

Bedbugs are tiny insects that often attach themselves to furniture and beddings.

The critters are renowned for being difficult to remove, have an average lifespan of 4-6 months and often attach themselves to luggage when people are travelling.

While the creepy critters aren’t dangerous they can cause itchy bites and sometimes rashes.

Bedbugs prefer to remain inside, as cold weather can kill them when they're exposed to it for a long time - but a drop in temperature can also cause them to go into a dormant state.

Read more: Bedbugs: is the threat real? All you need to know

Read more: Parisian bedbugs take on TfL: First sighting of critter crawling on London tube commuter's leg

A bedbug invasion in Paris has left many concerned it could travel, or already has travelled, to the UK.
A bedbug invasion in Paris has left many concerned it could travel, or already has travelled, to the UK. Picture: Alamy

How to spot if you have bedbugs

Bedbugs are usually dark yellow, red or brown in colour and grow to around 5mm long as adults.

You can often spot bedbugs by checking your skin for bites, as well as red or blown spots on beddings or furniture. Bites may present as red or purple in colour.

Bites will often show on body parts exposed while sleeping, such as the neck, face and arms.

Red spots may be visible on bedding as a result of blood from being bitten or the bugs being squashed. Brown spots may indicate bedbugs have defecated, according to NHS guidelines.

According to experts over at the Bed Kingdom, there may be a strange smell emitted during the early stages of an infestation.

When bed bugs feel threatened, they emit what is called alarm pheromones which have a faint smell of raspberries, cilantro, or almonds – and in severe bed bug cases, this smell might be mixed with the odour of dead bugs and shed cell casings which creates a rusty scent.

Bedbugs can hitchhike on luggage.
Bedbugs can hitchhike on luggage. Picture: Getty

How to get rid of bedbugs

Getting rid of bedbugs can be an arduous process. It’s advised to contact the council or a pest control service but other steps can also be taken.

Washing contaminated bedsheets and clothing on a hot wash and tumble dry for at least 30 minutes is one of the first steps to take.

Alternatively, anything that can't be washed can be put in a plastic bag and into the freezer for between three and four days, as bedbugs cannot typically survive extreme temperatures for elongated periods of time.

Cleaning your home regularly helps spot the critters, which can be found in both clean and dirty places.

Ms Bungay, from BCPA, said to call in an expert pest controller if bedbugs are found.

“They're not proven to transmit disease, but it's the psychological effect that they have on someone when you've got them in your home," she said.

"They feed from our blood, they just like us."

Experts at Bed Kingdom said that using an insecticide is not recommended as some of them can contain harmful chemicals that can be dangerous when used indoors, but you can opt for a bed bug spray to use before vacuuming which is typically safe for mattresses and furniture. 

They also advised to clear out any rubbish from your bedroom and put it in the bin, such as magazines, and make space ready to vacuum. Use a vacuum on the entire floor, making sure to get all of the corners – you can use the small wand to get into other areas of the bedroom, such as furniture and cracks in the wall.

How to treat bedbug bites

Bedbugs typically clear on their own but may require additional treatment in some cases.

Placing a cool, clean, damp cloth on the affected area can help with swelling an itching and it is crucial to avoid scratching any bites to prevent potential infections.

A TfL spokesman said in a statement to The Independent: “We are not aware of any outbreaks in London, but we will monitor our network and continue our rigorous and thorough cleaning measures which have been proven to keep both the interior and exterior of our trains clean.

“We are committed to providing a clean and safe environment on the Tube for our customers and staff, and we would like to reassure our customers that we continue to maintain our already high standards of cleanliness, so our staff and customers can use the network safely and with confidence.”