We tend to think of bedbugs as living only in beds. That’s what the name suggests, right? We are wrong. Bedbugs can hang out in any bit of fabric furniture, including your sofa, your office chair, and – shudder – the seats on buses and the Tube. That’s right – you could pick up bedbugs from sitting down on public transport.
This knowledge has shaken us to our core. Kenneth F. Haynes, a professor of entomology, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘It is possible to pick up bed bugs from any place where there is an infestation. It may be more difficult for an infestation to get started in a bus or train, but it certainly has happened.’ Kenneth explains that bedbugs can end up on public transport because the little suckers are moved mostly moved around by us humans, who’ll let bedbugs sit on our clothes, bags, and belongings then take them to new places.
‘Moving an infested upholstered chair from one apartment to another would be such an example,’ Kenneth explains. ‘Also moving a bag that rested on such a chair to a new place could get an infestation started. ‘The more links there are in the transfer, the less likely the transfer would be. The larger the source population is, the more likely would be the transfer. ‘Bed bugs don’t often ride around on us, but if numbers are large then this could happen.
I have walked through a heavily infested apartment and found a few bed bugs on my shoes.’
That’s what a bedbug looks like, FYI (Picture: Getty)
So while your bed may be bug-free, someone whose bed is swarming in bugs could launch an infestation on the Tube simply by resting their jacket on their mattress then taking a seat on the central line. Unsettling, right? This is particularly concerning information right now as the heatwave has prompted a massive increase in the numbers of bedbugs infesting cities in the UK. This is because higher temperatures shorten the reproductive cycle of bedbugs to eight or nine days, allowing them to lay eggs and multipy more quickly. The more bedbugs there are, the more likely they are to end up on public transport or spread around office furniture.
Oh, and because everyone’s been travelling all summer, the spread of bedbugs is even more likely. People may have picked up bedbugs from hotel beds or from their plane seats before bringing them into the UK travel system.
There’s no way to know in advance which forms of public transport will have bedbugs on them. Sadly, no one’s made an app alerting us to which bus line made them itch, and you’re unlikely to spot bedbugs until you sit down, feel an itch, and then inspect more closely. David Cain of Bed Bugs Limited told The Guardian that his advice is to never, ever sit down on buses, trains, or tubes, which may be a bit extreme, but is really the only answer to completely avoiding the bugs.
He also said there are certain areas of London’s public transport that tend to be infested: ‘There’s a west-to-east corridor that follows the Central line. There’s another hotspot running from Elephant and Castle down to Lewisham and New Cross. And yet another from Elephant and Castle to Brixton, then Norwood, and then on to Croydon.’
Oh, dear lord. We’re screwed.
The good news, before you completely panic, is that picking up bedbugs isn’t the end of the world. You just need to spot the signs and act quickly.
Signs you may have bedbugs:
According to the NHS, signs of a bedbug infestation include:
- Itchy, red bites on your skin, although not everyone will get these.
- In severe cases, they might become fluid-filled blisters or cause a rash to appear.
- Bites anywhere that’s exposed while you sleep, but particularly on your arms and shoulders because fleas and mites tend to bite your feet.
- Tiny specks of black on your mattress. We hate to break this to you, but that’s bedbug poop. The mottled shells of bedbugs that have been shed as the insect grows.
- Tiny bugs or white eggs in the crevices and joints of your mattress, upholstered furniture or carpet. You can use your phone torch to check.
- A musty, unpleasant smell in your bedroom.
- Spots of blood on your sheets – this could be from crushing bedbugs as you move around in bed.
Do your bit to prevent the spread of bugs, too. ‘Reducing the probability of transferring infested stuff into our homes is the best thing we can do,’ says Kenneth. ‘In higher density dwellings, we could avoid moving boxes, bags and other things back and forth between different individual units. We can increase the number of links that it would take to make it into our homes. ‘When traveling it would be better to keep our luggage away from beds or surrounding floors. If I am concerned that a hotel room might have been infested, then I would put my clothes through a hot clothes dryer.