Creepy little blood suckers

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No, not those unpleasant former colleagues, but the resurgent bane of the business traveler:  bedbugs.

Bedbugs are coming out of the woodwork — followed closely by opportunists peddling iffy products aimed at on-the-go professionals.  Although bedbugs don't carry disease, their bites can cause itchy, annoying welts.  But before you shell out money for an unproven remedy, find out more about what will (and won't) protect you from these pests when you travel.

First, the bed bug basics.  Although wingless, bedbugs rack up frequent flyer miles nonetheless, hitching rides on luggage, furniture, bedding, and clothing.  Once they've got a foot (feet?) in the door, they head for the luxury suite of the Cimex lectularius set:  headboards, box springs, wallpaper, and the seams and tufts of mattresses.  They're amazingly hardy, withstanding temperature from nearly freezing to over 110°F and are able to go a year without nourishment.  The presence of bedbugs isn't a reflection on cleanliness, although clutter can make them harder to treat.

How can business travelers tell if they're sharing quarters with an unwelcome roommate?  Bedbugs are visible to the naked eye, but prefer to hide out in crannies and crevices.  On bedding they often leave telltale dark brown spots a bit bigger than a pinhead.  It may look like a mark from a felt tip pen, but it's really — OK, you don't want to know what it really is, but it's not something you want on your sheets.

What can you do to reduce the chance of infestation while on the road?

► Use luggage racks to hold your suitcases rather than setting bags on the bed or the floor.

► Before turning in for the night, examine the linens for those dot-like calling cards.  Also keep an eye peeled for rusty red smudges caused by crushed bedbugs.

► Once your travels are over, unpack directly into the washing machine.  If you suspect an infestation, wash and dry items on the highest setting fabrics can handle for at least 20 minutes.

► Vacuum out your suitcase, briefcase, laptop bag, etc.  Empty the vacuum outside and seal the contents in the trash.

What should you do if you suspect that bed bugs have followed you home?   Read Good Night. Sleep Tight. Don't Let the Bed Bugs Bite . . . Your Wallet, a tip sheet from the FTC.  You'll get advice from experts at EPA, CDC, and others about the most effective do-it-yourself methods for fighting bedbugs and the questions to ask if you're thinking about hiring a professional.

You'll also learn how to spot that other common pest:  Consumerus ripoffius — the two-legged type out to take your money by making unsubstantiated claims about bedbug eradication.

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