The European Parliament moves its sessions regularly between Brussels and Strasbourg, taking Members of the European Parliament back and forth between the cities.
“I went to the medical centre in the European Parliament in Brussels. ‘I’ve had these itchy spots on my arms and legs for 6 weeks or so,’ I told the doctor. ‘They started off like insect bites but they won’t go away.’ She looked at them and asked if any new spots had appeared since the Parliament was last in Strasbourg. I told her no.
“‘The good news is that they are entirely harmless and non-contagious and will go away,’ she said. ‘The bad news is that they are bed bug bites. Strasbourg is notorious for bed bugs; we get 8 cases a week here. If it’s any consolation they are bed-specific. Like everyone else in the Parliament you will have booked the same hotel 12 months in advance but so long as you don’t get the same room you may be ok.’”
Just don’t stay in the same room? That’s all you’ve got?
There’s a lot of misinformation embedded in this one story.
It does sound like the skin reactions might well be bed bug bites, but remember: doctors can’t diagnose bed bugs from skin reactions. Not by sight and not even if they take a skin scraping. We understand a skin scraping may lead to a diagnosis of an “insect bite,” but you can’t confirm bed bug bites without visual signs of bed bugs (bed bugs, cast skins, fecal stains, eggs — see our photos of bed bugs and their signs).
Next, while it’s true they aren’t contagious in the sense of scabies or the flu, bed bugs can spread. Just like everyone else, the traveling MEPs are at real risk not just of exposure but also at risk of bringing bed bugs to their next locations — including their homes.
Bed bugs may be “bed specific” in the sense that a hotel might have some rooms with bed bugs, and some rooms without, but it is also true that they don’t just live in beds but can spread further, or even start out in other areas. And they can and do hitchhike to new locations and set up new infestations there.
Of course, there’s no reason to panic. Many people are exposed to bed bugs repeatedly through travel or work without bringing any home. However, it’s worth taking some precautions.
I strongly suggest that anyone traveling learns to carefully inspect a room for bed bugs (this FAQ should help). It’s worth taking the time for such inspections at the start of any stay in a new place, and taking some simple precautions against bringing them home (again, per our FAQ), in case there is an undetected exposure.
Regular travelers and others at higher risk might consider installing some kind of bed bug monitoring system (see our FAQ on detection for more about bed bug monitors). That means if bed bugs are brought home, they may be detected quickly so action can be taken.
When this blog started back in 2006, almost every media report about bed bugs contained inaccuracies. These days, good information has spread, but there is still a lot of misinformation out there. I wish doctors (and the media) would pay more attention to factual information about bed bugs which is widely available these days.
You may wish to view our Travel FAQs.