You can get bit and not even feel it … at first.
But be warned. That bedbug, the size of an apple seed, is now part of your life. It will hitch a ride home to live with you as an unwanted reminder of that expensive five-star hotel stay. And it will cost not only you, but the hospitality industry, insurers and cities nationwide a large sum of money.
“They are opportunistic, nondiscriminatory and — worst of all — stealthy,” warns Calvin Sugiyama, a risk service specialist with Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty Services (AGCS), who handles bedbug claims. “You might think you just have a mosquito bite or, because they bite multiple times, a rash.”
A unit of Allianz, the largest insurer in the world, AGCS has put a yardstick on the cost of the bedbug invasion in its latest report on liability claims. And for such a little bug, it causes a big problem. Domestic claims involving bedbugs rose 50 percent from 2014 to 2015, and they continue to climb. This figure is supported by the Bed Bug Registry, which confirms that bedbug sightings in New York City hotels alone jumped by 44 percent during the same time frame.
But New York City, which receives 50 million visitors a year, isn’t this country’s worst metropolitan area for bedbugs. That distinction goes to Baltimore, which now sits atop the least-wanted list in a report from pest control company Orkin, which seeks to turn bedbugs into dead bugs. To put this in perspective, “bedbugs were virtually unheard of in the U.S. 10 years ago,” said Orkin entomologist Ron Harrison.
Here are some additional facts from Allianz. Bedbug incidents account for almost one-third of all animal-related liability claims, right behind rutting deer that ram or are rammed by cars and trucks. But while deer tend to migrate mostly in the fall, bedbugs are prolific year-round, although infestations peak in the warmer months.
Bedbugs accounted for nearly 400 of the claims paid out in a five-year period, double the number of other insect bites and nearly four times as many dog bites.
Allianz’s figures include only insurance claims by it and other insurers. Since many hotels, bed and breakfasts and private homes handle the problem themselves with the assistance of a fumigator, it’s tough to figure out the total cost of these critters.
“Landlords, hotels and businesses typically pay for the elimination of bedbugs on their own,” said Loretta Worters, a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute, which represents the industry. But she warns that can be “extremely expensive.”
For starters, the property owner could be liable for any bodily injury. Bedbugs aren’t deemed to be dangerous and haven’t yet caused a fatality, but they are very, very annoying. And claims against hotels range up to $400,000, said Worters. Defending against these claims costs a lot of money because lawyers can draw blood too.
Then there’s the “reputational risks” for a hotel that’s known for bedbuggery or has to shut down for fumigation. Allianz’s clients are covered under its general liability policy, but other insurers offer specific policies, sometimes in conjunction with exterminators, to help the hospitality industry hang out a “no vacancy” sign for pests, Worters said.
Allianz’s Sugiyama, who admits he was once bitten by bedbugs, is now twice shy when it comes to staying at hotels, which he has to do frequently. “I take a big flashlight with me,” he said. “I check the bed, particularly the seams of the sheets, and if I see anything that looks like rust, I call management.”
Here are some other tips:
- If you’re able, turn over the mattress, no matter what size. Bedbugs like to congregate in dark places.
- Examine your luggage when you repack and inspect it for any black or brown spots. Believe it or not, the safest place in a hotel room to keep your luggage is in the bathtub.
- Launder all the clothing you brought with you — with the hottest water — when you get home.
Since most hotels are well aware of the bedbug problem, they keep an exterminator on retainer, and housekeeping is trained to spot any problems as well. Dogs, particularly beagles, are sensitive to the sweet musky odor of bedbugs, so if you see one sniffing around your hotel, it may be more than a pet.
But despite all the precautions, entomology isn’t on your side in the battle of the bedbugs. They’re blood eaters, but they can be stealth fighters and live an entire year without a meal. And they love to be under the covers with you, which is why they’re usually found within five feet of a bed.
Fumigate all you want to kill the critters, but will you ever feel secure where you were when you started that itching? “It never quite feels the same,” said a woman whose apartment was infested after a stay in a Southern hotel during a flood. “When I moved, I was so happy to say goodbye to that place.”