1. Bedbugs feed on human and animal blood. They prefer skin away from hair and inject saliva that both anesthetizes and serves as an anticoagulant. They then suck their victims’ blood. Bites are not known to transmit disease. In 50 % of the cases little reaction is shown. Bite sites become raised bumps that can be subject to irritation shown after the anesthetic wears off in about 4 hours. In a small number of cases, stronger allergic reactions are noted. Antihistamines, afterbite or in extreme cases cortisone cream may provide relief. The greatest negative consequence can be infection caused by scratching bite sites.
2. Bedbugs hatch from small 1 mm whitish eggs in about 10 days. The young are clear and go through 5 stages of development shedding their exoskeleton skin, so that three generations of bedbugs may be raised in a year. Adults grow to be approximately 5 mms and are flat with a reddish brown colour, especially after they have been feeding. They like to eat every 5 to 10 days. They grow more rapidly in temperatures of 20 to 30 degrees but can live for over 6 months without feeding. They can go dormant and survive freezing temperatures for a time. Therefore not responding to bedbug signs will only lead to increased infestation.
3. Bedbugs cannot fly but they can move up to 30 metres a day. They detect human prey by looking for heat and humidity and carbon dioxide signs. Therefore they can climb above sleeping humans to drop on them from above.
4. Bedbugs are most active in the dark and prefer to feed about 4 a.m. when humans are in the deepest phases of sleep. They can however bite in the daylight and hide in seams of clothing, backpacks and sleeping bags and therefore be transported to the next albergue.
5. Signs of bedbugs are bites which can show up from a few hours to a few days depending on the victim, in tracks of bites often in a line of three (breakfast, lunch and dinner). As they feed they excrete black dots resembling black pepper which is the fecal material from their blood meal. Some bedding may be stained with blood if the victim awakes to squash the feeding bedbug. Bedbugs mostly live around their victims’ beds so looking at mattresses, bed frames, in electrical outlets, in cracks in walls or floors and behind wallpaper. A “rotting raspberry” smell can sometimes be noted where bedbugs infestations are present. Dogs have been trained to “sniff out” the presence of bedbugs.
6. Insect repellant will not work to repel bedbugs. There are some suggestions that wearing or in silk or lavender smells are repellant to bedbugs but there is little scientific proof this works. Some people treat sleeping bags and mattresses with products using D–phenothrin and Tetrametrin to kill or resist bedbugs. This chemical disrupts their neurological processes but is not easily absorbed into the skin of human adults. It should not be used around children.
7. Action against bedbugs by hospitaleros should include much of the following:
a) Active questioning and inspections of arriving pilgrims. They may be ashamed and fearful so this should be done with sensitivity. Bites may be visible in exposed areas on the face, neck, arms and legs. They should be helped to clear their belongings of bedbug adults, nymphs and eggs (which are all visible on close inspection). Check especially seams in clothing, sleeping bags and backpacks. Heat is the most effective way to treat suspect articles.
b) Daily (and possibly nightly) inspections for bed bug “black pepper” excrement or blood stains on bedding, eggs, casings of nymph stage bedbugs, adults.
c) Active cleaning including using stiff brushes, powerful vacuums, alcohol based sprays (keeping in mind that you should not treat some surfaces for fear of temporarily increasing the flammability of wood, fabric, etc.).
d) Steam cleaning with steam irons or steamers.
e) Double sided tape around the legs of beds.
f) Vaseline coated around the legs of beds or couches.
g) Diatomaceous earth which cuts their exoskeleton and desiccates them placed in places where bedbugs may travel or in saucers sitting under the bed legs.
h) Use of pesticides designed for the eradication of bedbugs (with safety standards for users and people entering the areas carefully observed (since heavy pesticide use has been linked to Parkinson’s and Hodgkin’s disease). Wearing a mask, gloves and washing thoroughly after application are reasonable precautions. I waited to take a shower after spraying a treatment to a room. There are different strengths of pesticides. Note the promised infestation control length for an idea of the strength of the pesticide. I have seen one month (for a milder product called Biokill) to over a year. Treated rooms should be closed for a few days if possible and then aired out.
i) Professional fumigation. This will require the closing of the albergue for a few days and will be the decision of the albergue supervisor.
j) Laundering and drying all suspected contaminated clothing and sleeping bags in high heat above 45 degrees Celsius for over 7 minutes.
k) Steaming suspected backpacks where the “black bag in the sun” is not available due to weather factors (cloud or off summer season).
l) Use of bedbug killing chambers where high heat is applied to all items entering the albergue for the specified time.
Control of bedbugs seems to be more difficult at the pilgrim season progresses as numbers of pilgrims increase and bedbugs develop more quickly in warmer temperatures. On some routes some albergues have almost absolutely no choice for the pilgrims to stay in due to long stages and few services. When albergue staff members are negligent or ineffective in treating bedbug infestations, some albergue become granjas de chinches (bedbug farms) and pilgrims will arrive every day bringing a fresh crop of bedbugs with them.
However it is really important to remember that bedbugs will not kill you, while improper precautions in the treatment with chemicals pose a much greater long term risk to albergue pilgrims and especially hospitaleros.