Road Warrior

The latest weapon in the battle against bedbugs—luggage

Source: Courtesy Thomas Myers | National Pest Management Association

Bedbugs have not gone away, they've just found new places to hide. But the answer to the bedbug apocalypse might be right in your closet, or under your bed.

The latest weapon in the battle against the pesky critters? Luggage.

"The Achilles' heel of a bedbug is heat. They die if it gets to 140 degrees," said James Bell, CEO of a company that makes luggage that reaches temperatures hot enough to kill bedbugs and their eggs.

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Like something out of a James Bond movie, ThermalStrike suitcases—which come in two sizes and sell for $249 and $199—are billed as something that can nuke bedbugs into oblivion. The luggage plugs into a 110-volt socket and heats up its interior infrared panels to 140 degrees. The company recommends setting the timer to eight hours for full effect.

It's been a few years since the media hysteria peaked—along with cases of itchy people desperately dousing themselves or furniture with flammable liquids. Still, the problem is as bad as ever, according to industry officials. In the last few weeks, the pests have been found practically everywhere, from New York City subways to Naval Academy dorm rooms.

And a survey last week by pest-management company Orkin finds renters fear bedbugs over anything else. They're not the only ones.

"Bedbugs have increased dramatically as a public health pest throughout the country," the Environmental Protection Agency reports. Not surprisingly, the number of bedbug-fighting products has grown as well. More than 300 different products are now registered by the EPA for use against them (though that doesn't indicate an endorsement).

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ThermalStrike heated suitcases claim to be “the first bed bug proof luggage.”

Experts suggest a number of ways to reduce bedbug infestations when traveling, such as keeping your suitcase off the floor, closing it when not in use, inspecting the hotel's bed, sheets and headboard upon arrival and putting your clothes in a hot dryer when returning home. Advice on bedbug control can be found on the EPA website.

While the self-heating luggage and other bedbug-killing treatments are not certified by any government agency, the Federal Trade Commission offers consumers some advice: "The tough truth is, bedbug infestations are difficult to control, and no one treatment or technique has been found to be effective in all cases. Be wary of any brand that claims to be a silver bullet."

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Hotels have gotten better about eradicating bedbugs in recent years. A 2013 University of Kentucky survey of 251 pest management companies across the United States found that only 75 percent of the companies had responded to a bedbug case in a hotel or motel that year, down slightly from 80 percent in 2011.

Sniffing out bed bugs
Sniffing out bed bugs

"Hotels are very focused in bedbugs these days," said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association. Not only do they monitor and inspect more closely, most have aggressive response plans that call for clearing not just the room where the bugs are fund, but rooms on both sides as well as above and below since the infestation can spread through electrical sockets.

Still, Michael Potter, an entomology professor who co-authored the Kentucky survey, said travelers should remain wary. "Some hotels are being more pro-active while others are still way behind in the learning curve," he told CNBC.

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