Thai trains play the bed bug blame game: blame backpackers for bed bug infestation

by nobugsonme on March 15, 2008 · 2 comments

in bed bug blame game, bed bugs, bed bugs and travel

The bed bug blame game never ceases. Yesterday we heard about the Thai Isan trains infested with bed bugs.

Now the Thai railway company is blaming backpackers for bringing bed bugs to the trains, as the Bangkok Post reports in an article entitled, “Foreign Backpackers deny they’re bed bug spreaders.”

Foreign backpackers say they are disgusted by bed bugs, but even more disgusted by the suggestion they are the ones carrying the insects onto trains. Many foreign backpackers waiting for trains at Hua Lampong station yesterday conceded they knew little about bed bug infestations on trains.

They said the thought of bed bugs crawling on the velvety seats of long-haul trains and biting passengers while they dozed off was truly off-putting.

But to be accused of carrying the blood-sucking bugs on to trains was even more disgusting, said many foreign backpackers interviewed yesterday by the Bangkok Post at the train terminal.

Bed bugs can travel in any direction. Anyone could have brought the initial bed bug(s) onto the train: employees, local travelers, foreign backpackers, even train inspectors.

But the comments being made by officials in Thailand imply they haven’t got a clue how bed bugs behave:

Transport Minister Santi Prompat said yesterday the bugs may have jumped onto travellers’ backpacks during forest treks and then found new homes in the cosy seats of the trains. He said the velvet-covered seats and cool temperatures contributed to make the trains a fertile breeding ground for the insects.

Bed bugs would enjoy a nice velvet-covered seat, but they can also live in the train structure itself. And while bat or bird bugs are similar to bed bugs and might be found in the forest, they don’t leap onto people as they walk by.

Backpackers could certainly have brought bed bugs from a hotel or other lodging, as this traveler concedes:

American Sean Vaughan-Housman, 23, said he had not heard the news about the train beg bugs, but added he had come across the insects at a guesthouse.

But it may be unfair to point the finger at backpackers for the infestation of bugs on the trains, he said.

It most certainly is: you can’t prove foreign backpackers brought bed bugs onto the trains, or were the only people to do so.

More important, however, is the fact that travelers who rode on the infested trains are likely to have caused other infestations when they left it.   Maybe a few people brought bed bugs on to the trains, and yet how many more surely took them away from it?  The train infestation likely caused other infestations of passenger homes, guest houses, restaurants, even other trains, buses or planes.

If anyone sat on the train and picked up a hitchhiking bed bug in their clothing or bags, they could have infested subsequent locations. So the train company should be focused on that scenario. They’re to blame for infesting others as well.

This is why the bed bug blame game does not work: when people jump to blame others, they often forget there’s usually many more who can rush to blame them.

Sawittee Malaipan, an entomologist at Kasetsart University, said some foreigners, including refugees and tourists, did not like to take baths and so they attracted the insects.

It’s not surprising to see this sort of rhetoric levied against western young people. Here in the US, many want to blame immigrants for spreading bed bugs. But this entomologist’s line of thinking is incorrect: bed bugs are not attracted to people who do not take baths.

My assessment of this piece is that bed bugs are as much of a surprise to locals in Thailand as those in Paris or New York City. Once one realizes, “they’re back,” there’s a rush to place blame.

Well, sorry: they’re just back. Everywhere. Trying to blame others when bed bugs appear is pointless and distracting. It’s also usually based on faulty logic and scant or no evidence.

Instead, look to yourself. Do your best to keep your home, business, bed-and-breakfast lodging or public transport system bed bug-free, and you will keep from spreading bed bugs to others. And when you do get bed bugs, catch them quickly, apologize to anyone affected, and for goodness’ sake, get rid of them ASAP.

Thanks to hopelessnomo for pointing this article out.

1 nobugsonme March 17, 2008 at 4:06 pm

There will actually be ten train routes in Thailand out of service for 15 days, according to Achara Deboonme writing in Thai independent paper the Nation.

The lines affected are to Chiang Mai, Ubon Ratchathani, Yala and Surat Thani.

Certainly this will cause trouble for travellers. But passengers will be glad to know that the stoppage is for a good reason. It follows reports that bedbugs are widespread in the air-conditioned carriages and will take 15 days to eliminate.

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