An unwelcome souvenir

They are currently making headlines and keeping the whole of France on its toes: bed bugs. Concerns are also growing in Switzerland. How dangerous are bed bugs and how can you protect yourself? Read more in this week's health tip.
If you thought bedbugs were only to be found in cheap, grotty establishments, think again: these bloodsucking parasites aren't averse to five-star accommodation either. They hide in the tiniest nooks and crannies, preferably around where their victims are sleeping. They're mainly active in the early hours of the morning, drinking their fill of their hosts' blood before returning to their hidey-holes. They leave a dense pattern of red bites, which are often extremely itchy.

Increased globetrotting is helping the spread of bedbugs. After a stay in a room infested with bedbugs, people often end up taking them home with them as an unwelcome souvenir in their suitcase or clothes, or even furniture. Sometimes bedbugs even infest the vehicles people travel in, such as aeroplanes and sleeping compartments in trains.

Characteristics of bedbugs

The yellowish- or reddish-brown insect can be up to nine millimetres long, and has a flat, oval-shaped body. Bedbugs can't fly. They live between around six and twelve months. During this time the females lay up to 500 eggs. It takes between two-and-a-half and seven months for the larvae to hatch.

Prevention better than reaction

Once you have bed bugs it's difficult to get rid of them, and they can become a real pest. If you find them, you'll generally have to call in a pest control expert to deal with them with heat, steam or pesticides. After that there will be regular checks to make sure all the bugs and their eggs have been destroyed.

This means it's advisable to check your holiday accommodation as soon as you arrive. By way of precaution you shouldn't put your luggage near your bed, and you should leave your suitcase closed throughout your holiday. If you want to unpack clothes you should avoid putting them too close to your bed; ideally you should hang them up. Tell-tale signs of infestation are faecal stains (from the bugs) or small dark stains (dried blood) on the mattress, bedding or pillow. Besides the bed, also check the rest of the bedroom: walls, electric sockets, lamps, bedside tables and other furniture.

If you suspect bedbugs, you should notify the hotel staff or owner of the accommodation immediately. Demand another room, or in the worst case move to alternative accommodation.

Back home from your holidays

If you find signs of bedbugs while on holiday, there are a few precautions you can take to prevent the spread of these unwelcome guests in your home. If possible, unpack your bags outside your apartment or house (for example in the basement or on the balcony). If the weather's hot, you can put your suitcase in a black rubbish bag, tie it shut, and leave it out in the sun for a few hours. Temperatures of 55 degrees Celsius and higher kill off the parasites and their eggs. Alternatively you can wash your clothes at the same temperature. Vacuum clean your luggage, and avoid storing it close to your bedroom.
In the event of further health-related questions, SWICA customers can contact the santé24 telemedicine service free of charge on +41 44 404 86 86. A telemedicine practice licence allows santé24 physicians to provide additional medical services in cases that are suited to a telemedicine approach. SWICA customers can also use the BENECURA medical app to carry out a digital SymptomCheck and receive recommendations about what to do next. During a subsequent phone call with santé24, customers can decide for themselves whether to release their information from SymptomCheck to santé24.