We’d been hearing that the bed bug epidemic has hit hotels, but we didn’t really believe it. Then we got 2 hotel bed bug complaints in 48 hours. The first concerns the Hilton on Kearny Street in San Francisco. Oddly enough, the second also concerns the great state of California, but a different hotel. The Best Western Ocean View in Santa Monica. But first things first.
Maria checked into the Hilton San Francisco on Wednesday May 2nd, and by Friday afternoon she was covered with red, itchy bumps. She thought it was an allergic reaction to something, and didn’t worry about it too much. By Saturday she’d begun to suspect that something was biting her, because the bumps didn’t really look like a rash from an allergic reaction. Maria writes:
After showing the ‘rash’ and talking to a family friend who is a physician, we finally realized that it was probably bedbugs. I spoke to the front desk manager, who, without much reaction, said she would move me to a new room. That was the extent of the help I received from the Hilton. On Sunday I checked out.
Once home in New York, Maria’s doctor confirmed that the bumps were bites.
The second complaint came by way of a link to a blog. Lex checked into the Best Western Ocean View on business, despite warnings by an associate that the hotel was known for harboring a bed bug infestation (or so the internet said,) Lex had stayed at the hotel 5 times before with no incident, so he convinced his friends that the rumors were just that. Lex writes:
Jeremy arrives forearmed with some knowledge on bedbugs that I didn’t yet have, including what they look like (disgusting) and how to find them (move the bed and look between the bed and the wall). The suckers (which I call them because they are, in fact, bloodsuckers), as it turns out, love to hide.
Jeremy enters his room (#202) and immediately moves his bed away from the wall. You will never guess what he finds.
Did you guess bedbugs? Damn, okay, you WILL guess. I guess I sort of hinted at that already.
Yes, Jeremy found bedbugs — some dead, more living — crawling around, on, and near the bed. They are very tiny and were still in “hiding” mode (they don’t tend to come out to insert two little tubes into your skin — one with their anesthetic-laden saliva, the other to do the actual sucking of blood — until an hour or so before dawn most of the time). But they were most distinctly there, if you knew what to look for.
Lex and his friend collected some bugs as samples and went to the front desk to check out of the hotel, where the manager (Robert) insisted that they still pay for the night, despite the fact that they’d not yet slept at all (it was 7pm). Lex writes:
Robert (continued): “What makes you think there are bed bugs?”
Robert is a charmer from the get-go.
I explain that our primary indication that there are bedbugs is the fact that we observed them directly from a distance of approximately 12 inches, tell him firmy but politely that we are checking out, and that we certainly aren’t paying for tonight.
Robert expresses his deep concern about losing money on the rooms — it was about 7pm, and now those rooms would sit empty. I point out that it’s probably a good thing for him NOT to book the rooms with bedbugs, since that would mean, y’know, allowing bloodsucking insects to feast on someone else.
I explain to Robert that, again, I’ll pay for the night I slept there. I explain that neither of us will pay for this night, though, that we feel comfortable with our motivation for checking out. I politely explain that, in all honesty, we’d immediately call our credit card companies to ensure that they didn’t pay, if he did charge us for this evening, and that this would likely end up costing him more than just doing the right thing here.
Robert wasn’t interested. He instructed Anthony to charge us both and hung up the phone.
A few minutes later, he called back and spoke to Anthony. Anthony had just started running the charges on our cards. He passed the phone to me.
Let me preface this next part with a Dave Barry allusion.
I Swear I Am Not Making This Up:
Robert: Listen, I KNOW there are no bed bugs. I have a signed document from Terminix, who was in room 202 TODAY respraying for bedbugs, and this signed document says they’re all dead now.
Did you catch that? Respraying?
Lex: Well, Rob, I have photos of living bedbugs crawling around. Apparently they haven’t seen this document.
Robert: We don’t have a bedbug problem.
Lex: Was Terminix in the room today?
Lex: Why were they RE-spraying the room, Robert?
Robert: I have a signed document from Terminix.
Lex: Right. The ones the bugs themselves didn’t countersign. But why was Terminix RE-spraying the room?
Robert: They have said that any bugs there were dead.
Lex: Robert, they were in the room because BEDBUGS WERE IN IT TOO, right?
Robert: Yes. But now they’re dead.
This goes on and on. Turns out that the manager of the hotel likes to have Terminex come and spray the room, then let it out to someone the same day. As you can imagine, this isn’t really how you deal with bed bugs. But, anyway, back to Maria. Remember her? Here’s her letter in full.
I checked into the Hilton on Kearny Street in San Francisco on Wednesday, 5/2. The first night felt normal….seemingly clean room, sheets, bed, bathroom, etc. On Thursday afternoon after I had spent the day walking around the city, I got back to my hotel room and noticed some sort of rash on the top of my left foot. It was itchy, red, and there were lots of little bumps. I thought this was probably some sort of contact dermatitis, and didn’t really worry about it. Wednesday night passed with nothing out of the ordinary. By Friday afternoon/evening, I had developed the itchy, red bumps on my arms and legs, and thought maybe I was having an allergic reaction to something I ate. The pattern was patchy though, which isn’t consistent with a systemic allergic reaction. It didn’t even occur to me until the next morning (Saturday) that it might be something biting me. The red bumps had spread and gotten worse by this point, on my hands, and on my back. After showing the ‘rash’ and talking to a family friend who is a physician, we finally realized that it was probably bedbugs. I spoke to the front desk manager, who, without much reaction, said she would move me to a new room. That was the extent of the help I received from the Hilton. On Sunday I checked out.
By Tuesday I was back in New York (where I live) and decided to go to my doctor because the itching and redness was intolerable. My doctor confirmed that it was bedbug bites and prescribed me a topical steroid and advised me to take antihistamines around the clock to relieve the itching, and that the bites should take about 2 weeks to heal.
I have put in a call to the Hilton, issuing a formal complaint. I was told that someone would get back to me within 72 hours. Its been 48 hours and I don’t expect to hear from them anytime soon.
So the lesson learned is this – no matter how expensive or reputable a hotel seems, always check your mattress. And don’t expect much of a response from hotel staff, because they seem to almost expect bedbugs in their hotels now. So much for customer satisfaction.
So what have we learned here? According to the Harvard School Of Public Health, “Bed bugs are increasingly becoming a problem within residences of all kinds, including homes, apartments, hotels, cruise ships, dormitories and shelters. ” Bed bugs don’t know that you’re staying at the Best Western or the Hilton. They’re just looking for tasty flesh.
The Harvard School of Public Health recommends, (among many other things) checking your bed before sleeping in it, like Jeremy did in Lex’s story. If you do find yourself sleeping in a hotel full of bed bugs, don’t freak out. It happens. The main thing is that you don’t want to bring them into your own home. Harvard recommends that “suitcases should be carefully inspected, scrubbed with a stiff brush, and thoroughly vacuumed. Leaving such luggage for several hours in a closed vehicle in full summer sun may render the items bug free.” If your house does become infected, follow the procedure outlined by Harvard. It won’t be fun, but at least you’ll get to keep your blood where it belongs. Inside your body.—MEGHANN MARCO
I’ll be honest with you: We have had problems with Room 202. [The Lex Files] (Thanks, Kareem!)
~ Bed Bugs ~ Cimex lectularius (Cimicidae) [Harvard]