A reader writes,
I found your site and wanted to ask a question. I rent an NYC apartment and it has been confirmed by an exterminator that we have bed bugs. I am wondering about the transportation of bed bugs. For example, I work in a corporate office…What are the odds that I’ve transported the bed bugs to the office? Can they be living on my chair at work? Can they be transported through hugging or close contact with others? I check my clothing and have not seen any bugs walking around on myself or clothing, but can the eggs be transported by any of the above situations?
Thank you so much in advance for your feedback.
Sorry for your bed bug troubles. The bad news is that bed bugs can spread. They can catch a ride in your clothing or bag, and hop off somewhere else to start a new life. It’s worth considering this possibility, as you are. The good news is they don’t spread that easily, and it is possible to avoid this using some precautions.
It’s also worth noting that they can bite during the daytime, a fact which some people just don’t acknowledge. If bed bugs are in a school, a corporate office, or somewhere else where people are not sitting or lying down at night, they will bite by daylight.
Let’s take your questions one by one:
I am wondering about the transportation of bed bugs. For example, I work in a corporate office…What are the odds that I’ve transported the bed bugs to the office?
First of all, don’t panic. It happens, but I would say it is a small percentage of people who report this.
Though few people report this happening, we do also encourage people to take precautions against it. If it does happen, not only can you create a stressful situation at work, but you are also likely to reinfest yourself at home, even if treatment at home is going well.
Precautions might include carefully inspecting purses, shoes, etc. and treating them in appropriate ways if necessary; storing them in the home carefully; washing and drying clothing on hot and storing it in sealed containers (e.g. XL ziplocs) before use; showering and dressing in this cleaned-dried-sealed-up clothing directly before going out to work or anywhere else.
If, instead, you sit around at home, then hop up, grab a bag off your (possibly infested) sofa, hop in the car, and go to work (friend’s home, etc.) then you are more likely to bring bed bugs elsewhere.
And while few people have reported taking them to work, many people have reported giving them to relatives, friends, etc.
Finally, this is not your situation, but for others out there, some folks think they have bed bugs at home, where they might actually be bitten at work. Since bite marks and itching seem to appear after one is bitten (anywhere from a few hours to the next day or longer), it is possible to be bitten at work and think you are bitten at home. Keeping a log of when new bites appear might help you pinpoint this. Most people seem to first notice new bites sometime the day after being bitten: in the morning, afternoon, or evening, in many cases. Lots of Bedbuggers notice them after a warm or hot shower, or exercise, suggesting that heat can “bring them out” somehow. That is based on anecdotal evidence; unfortunately, this stuff has not really been studied yet.
Can they be living on my chair at work?
Yes–or, for that matter, a chair at home. Sofas, soft chairs, desk chairs, anything really: if you sit there for long periods (working at your desk, zoning out at home in front of the internet or a movie), you can be bitten. And they are likely to hide out near where they feed.
But remember– in addition to beds or chairs, bed bugs can actually live in the room itself (under baseboards, in floor cracks, around edges of carpeting, even behind electrical plates).
Can they be transported through hugging or close contact with others?
It is possible, but not easy. As per the first answer above, they will “hitchhike” in your bag, or even an item of clothing. If you are wearing washed, clean clothes, and if you take care to store items like coats and shoes properly, then it would be difficult for them to do so. Also, even if they did hitchhike, say in a trouser cuff or bag, they would not likely ride around very long. They want to bite you and then run off and hide inside something that is not moving!
Again, this does not apply to your situation, but we have heard of extremely serious infestations of people who did not bathe or change their clothing regularly, who were walking around covered in bed bugs. This is a rare situation, but it can happen.
I check my clothing and have not seen any bugs walking around on myself or clothing, but can the eggs be transported by any of the above situations?
It is possible a bed bug could have left an egg in your clothing. However, eggs take 6-17 days to hatch according to this Cornell fact sheet.
So if you’re washing your clothing and storing it as we describe during your infestation, this should not be a problem. Washing and drying on hot will kill bed bugs and eggs. If a hot wash will damage your clothes, Dr. Michael Potter has done some research on drying dry items on hot (which should be safer for items not suitable for machine washing and drying together). These FAQs about dealing with clothing should help.
For the benefit of others, I should point out that the precautions are not difficult in and of themselves, but they become moreso if you a lot of people in your home, or live with elderly people, children, people with various disabilities, or even adults who do not want to participate. I do not discount these difficulties, but am simply suggesting what has worked for others.
I hope other readers will comment with additional suggestions, questions, or comments.