Bed bugs are attracted to dirty laundry, say scientists who warn that leaving worn clothes exposed in sleeping areas – especially while staying in hotels – can facilitate the spread of the pests. Bed bugs have recently undergone a global resurgence, which has been partly attributed to an increase in low cost international travel in the tourism industry.
One possible mechanism facilitating the global spread of bed bugs is that the insects find their way into clothing and luggage. Researchers from the University of Sheffield in the UK conducted experiments in two identical, temperature-controlled rooms in which four tote bags of clothes were placed – two containing soiled clothes, two with clean clothes – in the presence of bed bugs.
In each run of the experiment, one room received an increase in concentration of carbon dioxide to simulate human breathing. The scientists found that in the absence of a human host, bed bugs were twice as likely to aggregate on bags containing soiled clothes compared to bags containing clean clothes.
The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also found that in the room with increased concentrations of carbon dioxide, bed bugs were more likely to leave their refuge and initiate host-seeking behaviour. Results from the research suggest that residual human odour on soiled clothes acts as an elicitor of host-seeking behaviour in bed bugs.
Consequently, dirty laundry left in an open suitcase, or left on the floor of an infested room may attract bed bugs. “Bed bugs are a huge problem for hotel and homeowners, particularly in some of the world’s biggest and busiest cities,” said William Hentley from the University of Sheffield.
“Once a room is infested with bed bugs, they can be very difficult to get rid of, which can result in people having to dispose of clothes and furniture that can be really costly,” said Hentley. “Our study suggests that keeping dirty laundry in a sealed bag, particularly when staying in a hotel, could reduce the chances of people taking bed bugs home with them, which may reduce the spread of infestations,” said Hentley.