Bed bugs are bed bad. People’s entire lives have been overturned by these (increasingly common) blood-sucking, itch-inducing pests. Thankfully, they’re not disease vectors, but I would rather not share my home with a roommate who wants to eat me, thank you very much.
Scientists have noticed an expansion in bed bug cases across the world, in no small part due to increased international travel. But one team wanted to know how the bed bugs managed to hitch a ride, and how to prevent the spread. It turns out that part of the answer lies with the dirty laundry inside your travel bag.
“There are a lot of good studies out there focused on trying to understand how bed bugs are attracted to humans and how they get around apartment blocks, but no one has really talked about how they get into the house in the first place,” study author William Hentley from the University of Sheffield in the UK told Gizmodo. “Stopping people from bringing bed bugs home can be a big step in preventing them spreading throughout the world.”
Scientists already know that human odor attracts bed bugs, though not which chemicals in the odor specifically. But for the newest study, researchers prepared a mock bedroom with laundry bags containing clean and dirty clothes—in other words, there were no humans in the room. The critters were “twice as likely to aggregate on bags containing soiled clothes compared to bags containing clean clothes,” according to the paper published today in the journal Scientific Reports. Contrary to the researchers’ hypothesis, the amount of carbon dioxide in the room did not affect their results—the CO2 source would represent a human, since some bugs like mosquitos are specifically attracted to the carbon dioxide you exhale.
These results were enough to convince the researchers that bed bugs could travel throughout the world by hitching a ride in luggage containing dirty clothes.
As a caveat, this was an experimental room and not real life, said both Hentley and Toby Fountain, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Uppsala in Sweden who was not involved in the study. But still, said Fountain, the authors “demonstrate a striking pattern that bags containing clothes with human odor were more frequently used as refuges than those without. This result emphases the importance of making sure luggage and other belongings are made as inaccessible to bed bugs as possible when staying in increased risk places, for example by making sure bags are fully closed and secured and kept away from the bed.” Hentley agreed with this advice.
So there you have it. When traveling to possibly bed bug-contaminated locations—like, say, that sketchy-seeming hotel—keep your luggage on metal racks (bed bugs don’t like crawling on metal, said Hentley) or put your whole suitcase in a plastic bag to avoid picking up the horrors that are bed bugs.
Travelling by plane has become an everyday activity – but our bodies and brains are still affected by it.
With the tiny screen bouncing around in front of us, tinny sound quality and frequent interruptions, watching a movie during a flight is hardly an immersive experience.
Yet, frequent fliers may have found themselves – or at least witnessed others – welling up at the most innocuous of films while on a long airline journey. Even lighthearted comedies such as Bee Movie, Bridesmaids and The Simpsons can trigger the water works in passengers who would normally remain dry-eyed if watching these on the ground.
One major airline has gone as far as issuing “emotional health warnings” before inflight entertainment that might upset its customers.
There are many theories about why flying might leave passengers more vulnerable to crying – sadness at leaving loved ones, excitement about the trip ahead, homesickness. But there is also some evidence that flying itself may also be responsible.
An emerging body of research is suggesting that soaring 35,000ft (10km) above the ground inside a sealed metal tube can do strange things to our minds, altering our mood, changing how our senses work and even making us itch more.
“There hasn’t been much research done on this in the past as for healthy people these do not pose much of a problem,” says Jochen Hinkelbein, president of the German Society of Aerospace Medicine and assistant medical director for emergency medicine at the University of Cologne. “But as air travel has become cheaper and more popular, older and less fit people are travelling by air. This is leading to more interest in the field.”
Hinkelbein is one of a handful of researchers who are now examining how the conditions we experience on flights can affect the human body and mind.
The humidity is lower than in some of the world’s driest deserts
There can be no doubt that aircraft cabins are peculiar places for humans to be. They are a weird environment where the air pressure is similar to that atop an 8,000ft-high (2.4km) mountain. The humidity is lower than in some of the world’s driest deserts while the air pumped into the cabin is cooled as low as 10°C (50F) to whisk away the excess heat generated by all the bodies and electronics onboard.
The reduced air pressure on airline flights can reduce the amount of oxygen in passengers’ blood between 6 and 25%, a drop that in hospital would lead many doctors to administer supplementary oxygen. For healthy passengers, this shouldn’t pose many issues, although in the elderly and people with breathing difficulties, the impact can be higher.
There are some studies, however, that show even relatively mild levels of hypoxia (deficiency in oxygen) can alter our ability to think clearly. At oxygen levels equivalent to altitudes above 12,000ft (3.6km), healthy adults can start to show measurable changes in their memory, their ability to perform calculations and make decisions. This is why the aviation regulations insist that pilots must wear supplementary oxygen if the cabin air pressure is greater than 12,500ft.
But there is some research that shows there can also be small decreases in cognitive performance and reasoning at oxygen levels found at 8,000ft (2.4km) – the same as those found in airline cabins. For most of us, this is unlikely to cloud our thinking much though.
Flying also plays havoc with our other senses too
“A healthy person like a pilot or passenger should not have cognitive problems at this altitude,” says Hinkelbein. “When you have unfit people, or someone with the flu or pre-existing problems, then hypoxia can decrease oxygen saturation further so cognitive deficits become noticeable.”
But Hinkelbein says the mild hypoxia we experience during flights can have other, more easily recognised effects on our brains – it makes us tired. Studies in hypobaric chambers and on non-acclimatised military personnel arriving in mountainous regions have shown short-term exposure to altitudes of at least 10,000ft (3km) can increase fatigue, but the effects could start at lower altitudes in some people.
“Whenever I am sitting in a plane after take-off, I become tired and find it easy to fall asleep,” explains Hinkelbein. “This is not the lack of oxygen causing me to lose conciousness, but the hypoxia is a contributing factor.”
Should you manage to keep your eyes open for long enough to see the crew dim the cabin, however, then you may experience another effect of the lower air pressure. Human night vision can deteriorate by 5-10% at altitudes of just 5,000ft (1.5km). This is because the photoreceptor cells in the retina needed to see in the dark are extremely oxygen-hungry and can struggle to get all they need at a high altitude, causing them to work less effectively.
The dry air can also rob us of much of our sense of smell, leaving food tasting bland. It is why many airlines add extra seasoning to the food they serve to make it palatable during a flight. It is perhaps fortunate that our sense of smell is diminished during flights, however, as the change in air pressure can also lead to passengers breaking wind moreoften.
And if the prospect of breathing in the bodily gases of your fellow passengers doesn’t make you feel awkward enough, it seems reductions in air pressure can also make passengers feel less comfortable. A study in 2007 showed that after about three hours at the altitudes found in airline cabins, people start to complain about feeling uncomfortable.
Combine this with the low humidity and it is little wonder we find it hard to sit still for long periods on flights. A study by Austrian researchers has shown that a long-distance flight can dry out our skin by up to 37%, and may lead to increased itchiness.
For those who are already nervous fliers, there is perhaps some more bad news.
“We have shown that some aspects of mood can be altered by exposure to cabin pressures equivalent to altitudes of 6,000-8000ft,” says Stephen Legg, professor of ergonomics at Massey Univeristy in New Zealand, who is studying the impact of mild hypoxia on people. This may go some way towards explaining why passengers often find themselves crying at films more mid-flight, but most effects in scientific studies seem to only occur at altitudes above those that commercial airline cabins are set to. Recently Legg also showed the mild dehydration that might be expected on a flight can also influence mood.
“We know very little about the effect of exposure to multiple mild stressors on complex cognition and mood,” he adds. “But we do know that there is a general ‘fatigue’ associated with long distance air travel, so I guess it is probably the combined effects of these concurrent multiple mild exposures that give rise to ‘flight fatigue’.
But Stephen Groening, a professor of cinema and media at the University of Washington, believes this happiness may also manifest itself as tears. The boredom on a flight and relief given by an inflight movie, combined with the privacy of the small screen and headphones used to watch one, could lead to tears of joy, not sadness, he says.
“The configuration of inflight entertainment apparatus produce an affect of intimacy that might lead to heightened emotional responses,” says Groening. “Crying on airplanes actually consists of tears of relief, not tears of sadness.”
But Hinkelbein has uncovered another strange change in the human body that could also be messing the way our bodies normally work. A new study he conducted with colleagues at the University of Cologne, but yet to be published, has shown even 30 minutes in similar conditions to those experienced on a commercial airliner can alter the balance of molecules associated with the immune system in the blood of volunteers. It suggests the lower air pressure may cause a change in the way our immune systems work.
If flights do alter our immune systems it could not only leave us more vulnerable to picking up infections, but it could alter our mood too
“People used to think they got a cold or flu when travelling due to changes in the climate,” says Hinkelbein. “But it could be because their immune response changes while on a flight. It is something we need to research in more detail.”
If flights do alter our immune systems it could not only leave us more vulnerable to picking up infections, but it could alter our mood too. Increases in inflammation triggered by the immune system are thought to be linked to depression.
“A one off inflammatory challenge from a vaccine can produce a mood dip that resolves in about 48 hours,” says Ed Bullmore, head of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge and who studies how the immune system influences mood disorders. “It would be interesting if a 12-hour flight to the other side of the world caused something similar.”
A video advising UK holidaymakers what to do in the event of a terror attack abroad has been released by police.
The four-minute film depicts a firearms attack unfolding at a hotel and uses the “run, hide, tell” safety message.
Thirty British tourists were among 38 people killed when a gunman attacked a Tunisian beach resort in June 2015.
Counter terrorism police said there is no specific intelligence Britons will be targeted this summer and the film is part of a general awareness campaign.
But Det Ch Supt Scott Wilson told the BBC it was “only right” to offer advice following the terror attacks in London and in Sousse, Tunisia.
“These people are not there to steal a mobile phone or steal your watch, they are there to kill you, you have to get yourself out of that danger zone,” Mr Wilson told the BBC.
“It’s very unlikely [that you will be caught up in a terror attack].
“It’s very much like the safety briefing you get on an aeroplane before it takes off – it’s very unlikely that plane is going to crash, but it’s very important you are given that knowledge of what you should and what you shouldn’t do.”
The video has been produced with the Foreign Office and travel association Abta.
Mr Wilson said 23,000 representatives from major UK holiday companies at resorts all over the world had been trained in what to do in the event of a terror attack as well as how to spot suspicious items and activity.
Foreign Office minister Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon said: “While there is no specific information that British holidaymakers will be targeted this summer, it sets out some simple steps we can all take to minimise the impact of an attack if one does take place.”
The run, hide, tell message was first introduced by police in December 2015.
If there is a safe route run
Insist others go with you, but do not let their indecision slow you down
For flight attendants, who often spend more than 80 hours in the air a month, traveling can become almost second nature.
So who better to turn to for travel tips and tricks than the people with extensive knowledge on the matter?
We asked flight attendants to share their best travel hacks with us and scoured the internet for more.
Here are 13 things that could help make your travel experiences easier and more enjoyable:
Get more attentive service from your flight attendants
“While most passengers tend to choose seats that are at the front of the aircraft so that they can disembark first and have a better chance of securing their preferred meal option, flight attendants know that if you’re sitting towards the back, you’ll receive the most attentive service.
“The reason is simple: We like to avoid responding to call bells from the front of the plane because answering one means potentially flaunting whatever item the passenger has requested to everyone else along the way. This can cause a problem since planes often don’t have enough extra vodka, pillows, earplugs, and toothbrushes, or the time on shorter flights to deviate from the service schedule.
“For passengers sitting near the back of the plane, however, it’s much easier to slip in that second mini bottle of wine.”
Iron your clothes faster
“Use your flat iron to touch up your clothes when you’re in a rush and there’s no time for the ironing board.”
— A flight attendant with 30 years’ experience
Always sleep in clean sheets
“Don’t sleep on hotel sheets that don’t have creases from being folded; someone slept on them already.”
— A flight attendant with 19 years’ experience
Keep the hotel room dark
“Use the clips on the pants hangers in the hotel room to clip your curtains together so there is no light coming through.”
— A flight attendant with 15 years’ experience
Avoid doing damage to your hearing
“Avoid flying if you have a severe cold. It can damage your eardrums, and you may lose your hearing. It happened to me once — I couldn’t hear properly for a week, and it hurt like hell.”
“While there’s no escaping (or blaming) the shrill of an upset child, you can lower your odds of sitting directly next to one by choosing a seat that’s located far from the partitions on board.
“These partitions, which go by the technical name ‘bulkheads,’ are the only places on an aircraft where a parent can safely secure a baby’s bassinet — and are, therefore, where most children under one year old will be situated.”
“What helps me sleep is having a bedtime ritual. Stop using electronics one hour before bedtime, have a cup of tea, and read a bit. Usually that does the trick, but if I can’t sleep after an hour I just get up, do something else, and then try again.”
“Before your trip, call your hotel and check to see if they have a washer/dryer available. If so, bring a couple detergent packs and dryer sheets in a Ziploc bag, and it eliminates two to four days’ worth of clothes, depending on your stay.”
— A flight attendant with one year of experience
Get through customs in a jiff
“Pay for Global Entry — it’s totally worth it.”
— An anonymous flight attendant
Save space in your suitcase
“My favorite travel hack is definitely the clothes-roll technique. I am often gone from home for several days, even up to three weeks, and I save space by rolling my clothes instead of folding them.”
— A flight attendant with one year of experience
Never miss out on free breakfast
“If you know you’re not going to be able to attend whatever complimentary meal they’re offering because you’re leaving before it starts or you know you’re not going to be up until after it’s over, check with the hotel to see if there’s some kind of snack or sack lunch they can provide before or ahead of time. Usually it’s just a piece of fruit, a bottle of water, and a thing of string cheese, but that’s saved my growling stomach on several occasions.”
— A flight attendant with one year of experience
Get a cheaper upgrade
“Some airlines do offer reduced-price upgrades the day of the flight — there’s sometimes even first-class flights available. So be in the boarding area good and early during boarding, because this is when you’ll hear the announcements for last-minute upgrade purchases you might be able to get. It’s not for every airline, but it does happen.”
— A flight attendant with three years of experience
Don’t miss out on the first-class upgrade if you qualify for it
“I think it’s great we don’t have to travel in suits and high heels anymore. You can be comfortable. But you can also be classy and comfortable. Check your air carrier’s rules — there are still dress codes sometimes in first class and, who knows, maybe, miracle of the day, you’ll get that cheap upgrade to first class. Be comfortable, but if you can avoid wearing your pajamas, that’s great.”
— A flight attendant with three years of experience
In recent months we’ve seen news about a range of medical and health issues occurring aboard commercial airline flights. The baby born in the skies between Philadelphia and Orlando on Southwest Airlines. The airborne medical emergency and subsequent death of Carrie Fisher. And the ongoing saga of American Airlines’ new flight attendant uniforms, with up to 2,000 employees claiming they cause rashes, headaches and other health hazards when worn in pressurized cabins.
Because 39,000 feet is a terrible location for a serious or life-threatening medical event, regulators and airline organizations have sought improvements. But challenges remain: MedAire, a company offering medical and travel safety services, published a 2011 white paper noting annual numbers of such events keep steadily increasing, due in part to longer life expectancies. Neurological events are by far the most common.
Many passengers might be surprised to learn in-flight deaths due to medical causes occur more frequently than accident-related deaths, this despite MedAire’s estimate that medical professionals are onboard 50%-60% of commercial flights. The best solution — when possible — is to avoid the likelihood of such occurrences, by consulting with your doctor in advance of flying. Here are some of the conditions for which fliers should pay special attention.
After Carrie Fisher’s in-flight emergency, some health and travel blogs demanded domestic airlines carry defibrillators for heart patients. In fact, they do. In 2001 the FAA regulated all U.S. commercial aircraft weighing more than 7,500 pounds and having at least one flight attendant must carry automated external defibrillators (AEDs) and enhanced emergency medical kits (EMKs); this rule was later updated in 2006.
An FAA spokesperson confirmed these rules still apply for all U.S. domestic and international flights, with no exemptions in place. Regulations dictate this equipment should only be accessed by trained crewmembers, or other qualified and trained professionals. The FAA states: “It would be preferable for flight attendants to check the credentials of passengers holding themselves out as medical specialists.”
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) advises certain post-op patients should not fly, particularly after gastro-intestinal surgery; abdominal trauma; and certain facial, eye and brain operations.
For those who require constant medication or assistance in-flight, it’s important to learn about a specific airline’s policies, which are available on their sites. The U.S. Department of Transportation provides details about the Air Carrier Access Act online, including provisions explaining the rights of passengers needing assistance and/or using Portable Oxygen Concentrators, mobility aids and assistive devices. The Transportation Security Administration’s site also details policies on devices and medications.
Flying while pregnant
For many years, researchers have attempted to determine if flight attendants suffer higher-than-average miscarriage rates. In 2015 the Centers for Disease Control and other government agencies undertook a comprehensive analysis of 840 pregnancies among flight attendants and found chronic sleep disturbance is a key factor for pregnant women who fly during “normal sleep hours” and across time zones. Those who flew more than 15 hours during normal sleep hours in the first trimester were at increased risk for miscarriage.
The report also addressed pregnancy risks for women whose flights travel through solar particle events, an occurrence that may seem rare for even frequent fliers. Yet a 2001 report from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted: “For most air travelers, exposure to cosmic radiation are negligible. For pregnant aircrew members and other frequent flyers, this exposure may be higher.” For those worried about such risks, the Federal Aviation Administration offers an interactive tool that lets you estimate potential galactic radiation for a specific flight on a specific date.
When is it safe for newborns to fly? The answer: It depends, and in ALL cases you should consult your doctor first. In addition, airline policies vary, with some carriers requiring a physician’s letter during the first few weeks, so check the airline’s site.
MedAire recently issued guidelines for traveling with babies and noted: “The most common in-flight ailments for infants and children were gastrointestinal and respiratory related.” Parents and caregivers are advised to keep TSA-approved doses of “common medications” such as analgesics, antihistamines and anti-emetics in their carry-ons; ask if you’re unsure.
As for specific issues such as ear pain and infant pain relievers, the American Academy of Pediatrics offers a “Flying with Baby” page. KidsTravelDoc.com, created by pediatric travel expert Dr. Karl Neumann, likewise offers detailed advice on such issues. Also, it’s critical to remember what I’ve written about so frequently here: The SAFEST way for children under 2 to fly is in an approved child restraint.
The question arises, if spending so much time in pressurized tubes at high altitudes affects the health of crewmembers, what effects are felt by passengers, particularly frequent fliers?
Who shouldn’t fly?
IATA, the industry’s global trade organization, offers health tips for passengers and advises that — in addition to newborn infants, some pregnant women and certain post-op patients — those who may not be safe for flying could include anyone with the following conditions:
• recent myocardial infarction or stroke
• uncontrolled extreme hypertension
• angina pectoris
• certain severe chronic respiratory conditions
• infections of the ear, nose or sinuses
• recent psychiatric illness
As always, a medical profession should make the final determination — PRIOR TO BOOKING.
Baltimore may want to omit its latest superlative from the tourist brochure: The city with the most bedbug treatments.
Orkin ranked the city atop its annual Top 50 Bed Bug Cities List, a ranking of metro areas based on the number of bed bug treatments the pest control company performed. This year’s list, released Tuesday, is based on visits from Dec. 1, 2015 to Nov. 30, 2016.
The nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C., came in second followed by Chicago and New York.
The pests are starting to become a real problem, said Ron Harrison, Orkin entomologist and director of technical services. And they aren’t limited to mammoth metropolises. Mid-sized cities in the South, Midwest, West Coast and even Hawaii made this year’s top 50 list. In fact, nearly all of the nation’s pest professionals have had to deal with the little buggers.
“We have more people affected by bed bugs in the United States now than ever before,” Harrison said. “They were virtually unheard of in the U.S. 10 years ago.”
But bed bugs aren’t evidence of poor hygiene or cleanliness, Harrison explained. Anyone can get them. All they need is blood to survive and they’re also good travelers, often latching onto luggage, purses and other items during travel. Besides bedrooms, the critters are spotted at movie theaters, in public transportation, offices and libraries.
“We have treated bed bugs in everything from million-dollar homes to public housing,” Harrison said.
Bed bugs are hard to spot. At full growth, they’re the size of an apple seed. The first signs of an infestation are the bugs themselves or the small dark stains they leave.
Here’s how you can combat bed bugs:
– Inspect your home, especially around the bed. Decrease clutter. inspect furniture before it enters your home and dry linens on high heat.
– Survey hotel rooms while traveling. Peek in hiding spots in the mattress, box spring and other furniture. Keep luggage away from the wall. Examine your luggage while repacking and place dryer-safe clothing in the dryer on the highest setting when arriving home.
– If you suspect an infestation, call a pest management professional.
The terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium have brought the issue of travel safety and students to the national spotlight. Families of murdered or injured students thought that Western Europe was safe. They were wrong.