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  • Writer's pictureNoel McCarthy

Bed Bugs for the Holidays

Updated: May 25, 2022

It’s Holiday Season! Kwanzaa, Diwali, Hanukkah, Christmas, you name it. There’s a holiday for everyone at this time of the year.

bed bugs in clothing_bed bugs in presents
Didn't expect to find bed bugs in here..?

Like most holidays, these celebrations involve gift-giving, of one kind or another. And who doesn’t like getting presents?

However, you might want to examine those gifts more carefully than usual.


Bed Bugs Are Back ̶ Big Time

Because bed bugs are making a resurgence and they are appearing in places you would least expect, including retail stores ̶ from small ‘Mom n’ Pop' operations all the way up to the big box stores.

And it’s not just clothing stores that seem to be afflicted. But bugs are showing up in computer and electronics stores, furniture outlets, shoe shops, novelty and party stores, and so on, ad nauseum.

At one time it was thought that bed bugs had been pretty much eradicated, especially in the 1960s when many new pesticides and insecticides that kill bed bugs were introduced. But bed bugs are nothing if not resilient and the announcement of their demise was premature.

While it’s certainly true that many insects, including bed bugs, have begun to develop various levels of resistance to commonly-used pesticides, there are other factors at work here, other less obvious reasons for their ‘renaissance.’

Bed Bugs Are International Travelers

A goodly number of the products we happily consume ̶ at those affordable prices we have gotten so used to ̶ come from China, Korea, Indonesia, Guatemala, Mexico, even Eastern European countries such as Hungary, Poland, Croatia and Slovenia. And this is where these bed bugs come from. The unfortunate fact of the matter is that bed bug control in places like China and Mexico is not as rigorous or successful as it is here, in the US.

And it’s not just the country of origin that may be a problem. The fact is that all these imported items pass through many stages on their way to shop shelves in the US. They may well be unloaded and reloaded countless times during their journey, and there is no guarantee that the cargo areas (or the cargo handlers for that matter) are free of bed bugs or other pests.

That is especially true when it comes to clothing, sheets and towels, and so on. Being the canny creatures they are, bed bugs often ‘hitch-hike’ into our homes and offices via these products. But it’s not just clothing and bed linens that serve as convenient transport for the interlopers. Bed bugs can, and do, find their way into the packaging used for computers, packets of printer paper, crockery, plastic products (such as knives, forks and spoons), lighting fixtures, toys, and so forth. In fact, bed bugs will use any means of transport available to them. They’re not proud, and they’re not picky either!

A Shopper’s Guide to Effective De-Bugging

Now, it’s officially holiday time and, like most of us, you’re off to the mall (or whatever shopping complex you prefer) to buy gifts for friends, family, and probably yourself too.

So, let’s assume, for arguments sake, that you’re buying clothing: jeans, sneakers and hoodies for the kids; sweaters and underwear for dad (forget ties, dads uniformly hate them); and slippers and nightgowns for grandma and grandpa. There’s also a good chance that you have linens and sheets on your shopping list as well.

How to Check for Bed Bugs When You Shop

Before you leave the store it’s a good idea to check your purchases carefully. Here’s a short checklist of steps you can take to ensure that you won’t have any ‘hitch-hikers’ with you when you return home.

  1. If you’re in the fitting room, trying on that well-tailored jacket, or those nicely-fitting slacks, make sure that none of the items you brought in have odd-looking stains or marks ̶ especially reddish or rusty stains. Those marks, I’m sorry to say, are bed bug excrement! You may not see any bed bugs, as such, but they’ve been there before you!

  2. Examine every item of clothing, as well as linens and/or bed sheets, towels, and other items made of cloth before you buy them. As I said, bed bugs can find their way onto any item of clothing and once you have them in your home your problems escalate exponentially. When you inspect these items make a point of looking at both inside and outside seams for sticky white eggs or shed skins. You may even come upon an actual bed bug. Whatever happens, tell the store what you’ve discovered, even if it’s only those suspicious stains.

  3. Silly as this might sounds, check the fitting room you’re in, especially behind mirrors and other places that bed bugs might hide. And do it before you try on any clothing.

  4. Make sure that you keep all of your purchased items sealed in the store bag you’re given ̶ and keep it that way until you get home. Then, right before you enter your home shake out all the items, just in case you have a ‘hitch-hiker’ you failed to spot earlier.

  5. Launder all your purchased items in hot water and dry them on a high temperature. Bed bugs hate heat! If the item requires dry or steam cleaning drop it off at the cleaners immediately.

(You can read more here about how to get rid with bed bugs.)

Other Signs of Bed Bugs

Let’s face it: Even our best efforts sometimes fail. And that’s as true for test-taking as it is for keeping bed bugs out of your home.

Sometimes, the evidence of bed bug infestation you’re looking for may not exist ̶ yet. You may be lucky (or unlucky enough) depending on your point of view, to have only two or three bed bugs to deal with.

If that’s the case, the first sign that these ‘interlopers’ are around may be bed bug bites. Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs do not live on or in human hosts, but that doesn’t mean they are benign, by any means.

Stories abound regarding folks who have gotten home with their clothes purchases only to find that they have bed bug bites after wearing the items. For instance, Hillary and Matthew Nystrom from Port Charlotte, Florida, “discovered...[bed] bugs on Matthew’s leg when he pulled on a pair of jeans. The bug had bitten Matthew’s leg several times.”

Bed bug bites are raised, flat red welts, typically appearing three in a row. They can be confused with scabies bites, but in this case that’s unlikely. Again, you can read here to get all the details about how to differentiate between bed bug vs. scabies bites.

It’s worth keeping in mind that bed bugs can also enter your home (or office) by other means. For instance, if you happen to travel and have suitcases (or back packs) with you there is a chance that your hotel or motel room might harbor bed bugs. The proprietors may not even know that their rooms have been ‘bugged’, so to speak, so be sure to store your luggage off the floor.

And, while we’re on the subject remember that bed bugs can ‘invade’ your home via used furniture, yard sale items, and other previously owned items. Always check carefully.

If you do find bed bugs, make sure you get rid of them right away.


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