Watch Out for Unwanted Hitchhikers

Adult bed bug

Bed bugs are tiny, biting insects that may be as small as one twenth-fifth of an inch in size. Visit the UT Extension publications website for information on preventing or combatting an infestation. Photo courtesy UTIA.

If your favorite warm-weather activities include shopping at garage sales or traveling, you might be at a greater risk of a bed bug infestation. These biting insects often reside in places where they come into repeated contact with humans, places like hotel beds or furniture found at garage sales.

A great way to prevent from getting infested with bed bugs is to understand where they like to live, what they look like and how they get around. “Bed bugs are excellent hitchhikers,” says University of Tennessee Extension entomologist Karen Vail. “They can enter homes via infested luggage, backpacks, purses, clothing and furniture. They are beige to rusty red and may be one twenty-fifth to one third of an inch in size depending on their life stage.”

Vail has some easy-to-follow tips that can greatly reduce your chances of bringing home the unwanted pests:

While traveling:

* Store luggage away from beds. Store luggage in the bathroom or place it in a sealable plastic bag.

* Inspect the hotel room before you unpack. Check behind the headboard, along the mattress seams, and other accessible cracks and crevices. Ask for another room if you find bed bugs.

* Inspect luggage for bed bugs before leaving the hotel. Upon your return home, wash and dry clothes immediately.

* Leave luggage in a sealed bag until you have time to inspect and clean it.

At garage sales:

* When acquiring new-to-you beds, bedding, furniture, appliances and other items that may harbor bed bugs, inspect them before purchasing or bringing them to your home. This goes for rental furniture, too.

* Inspect new-to-you clothing, purses, backpacks and briefcases before entering your home.

It is important to follow these precautions because bed bugs are a major pest concern for Tennessee, and the problem is growing. According to Vail, “In 2005, nearly 20 percent of Tennessee counties reported bed bugs. By December 2012, bed bugs were reported in 60 percent of Tennessee counties and could well be more widespread than reported."

For more information on bed bugs, including images to help you recognize them, you can review the UT Extension publication “Affordable Bed Bug Management” (SP 761), available free online at the UT Extension website: Just click on the top link to “publications” and enter the search term “bed bug” to see links to this and other resources.

You may also contact your local county UT Extension Office.

The UT Institute of Agriculture provides instruction, research and outreach through the UT College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT College of Veterinary Medicine, UT AgResearch, including its system of 10 research and education centers, and UT Extension offices in every county in the state.




Dr. Karen Vail, Professor of Entomology and Plant Pathology, 865-974-7138,