Is The ‘Bed Bug Epidemic’ Just A Bunch Of Hype?

Hotels infested with bedbugs have been a topic of conversation for some time now. The mere mention of the insects in news stories or user reviews can send a hotel into a public relations (or legal) nightmare, and whole cities have been blacklisted by some travelers afraid of becoming a victim of the bedbug plague.

But is it just public awareness around bedbugs that has gone up in recent years? In a recent piece for National Geographic, travel writer Christopher Elliot bravely tries to “exterminate” some misconceptions about the little buggers. He points out that bedbugs have been occupying hotels and inns for thousands of years and that if one room of a hotel is infested, it doesn’t mean the entire building has been taken over. He also says that most people who are bitten don’t even realize it, and quotes a leading bedbug expert as saying the bites are “no worse than a mosquito.”

Sure, nobody wants to get bitten, or worse, transfer bedbugs to their own home. But if travelers simply know where to look for bedbugs in the first place and take some simple precautions — like not putting their luggage on the bed or the floors — odds are they’ll be safe.

So travelers, relax. You don’t need a bedbug sleeping cocoon to stay safe from these pesky (but disease-free) insects. Don’t be naive, but certainly don’t let the idea of bedbugs ruin your next vacation.

The Plague Closes Los Angeles Forest

Officials evacuated and closed parts of the Angeles National Forest after finding a dead squirrel that was infected with bubonic plague, the BBC reports.

Scientists are currently examining the squirrel to see if it died of the disease or of other causes. Park officials are using insecticides on squirrel burrows to kill off any fleas, which is how the disease spreads from one animal to another. The Twisted Arrow, Broken Blade and Pima Loops of the Table Mountain campgrounds are closed until further notice, although hiking is still permitted.

The plague killed about a third of Europe’s population in the 14th century but is not nearly as active these days. Only four people have contracted the disease in Los Angeles County since 1984. This map from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows each case of the plague in the United States since 1970. About 80% were of the bubonic variety and most cases were not fatal, since antibiotic treatment is usually successful. In related news, researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany are developing an easy test to detect the plague in its early stages.

As you can see, there are two main clusters. New Mexico gets about half of all the human infections in the U.S. In the 1980s, the worst plague decade, it had slightly more than a hundred cases. Worldwide, most plague cases are in south central Africa and east Asia. People tend to get it while engaged in outdoor activities.

Maggots Make Home In Woman’s Ear After Peru Trip

At one point on her trip-of-a-lifetime to Peru, Rochelle Harris swatted a fly out of her ear and thought little of it. On the flight home, however, she began to hear “scratching sounds” and feel excruciating pain on the side of her face. Then, the next day, fluid leaked out of her ear onto her pillow. After tests at the doctor, it was revealed that maggots had chewed nearly a half-inch hole in her ear canal (ew!). Turns out that pesky fly that laid eggs in her ear was a New World screwworm fly, a species whose larvae feeds on the tissue of its host.

Harris’ story will be featured on Discovery Channel’s upcoming series Bugs, Bites and Parasites. To make sure you don’t end up on the show (seriously, you don’t want to earn your five minutes of fame this way), make sure you study which animals and insects to be aware of before setting off on a trip. From yellow fever, dengue fever and malaria (all transmitted by mosquitos) to the pneumonic plague (transferred person-to-person), don’t let an experience like Harris’ ruin your vacation. Be prepared by getting the appropriate shots and by keeping antibiotics in your first aid kit. And please, watch out for those flies.


London Crossrail Project Unearths Black Death Burial Pit

“Bring out your dead!”

If you lived in London in 1348-50, you’d hear that call a lot. All of Europe was swept with the Black Death, a virulent plague that killed an estimated one-third of the population. London, like other congested urban areas, got hit hard.

Now archaeologists working in London have uncovered a mass grave of Black Death victims, a Crossrail press release reports. Digging ahead of the planned London Crossrail transportation project, the team discovered a mass grave of 13 bodies at Charterhouse Square, an area known as a burial ground during the plague. Pottery from the mid-14th century found at the site helps confirm the identification.

The bodies were laid out neatly in rows, hinting that the burial ground was from the early stages of the Black Death. When the plague was going full force, bodies were simply dumped into giant pits.

Now archaeologists are examining the bones to learn more about how the people lived, including diet, physical health and work-related wear and tear on the body. They also hope to find surviving DNA from the plague to give scientists a better idea of how it developed. Researchers stress that the plague bacteria cannot live for long in the soil and the excavation poses no health risk.

This is only the latest in a series of finds by the Crossrail workers. Earlier we reported on their discovery of a 3,500-year-old Bronze Age trackway. The Crossrail project is a high-speed train system that will link 37 stations along 73 miles of track through London. It’s due to open in 2018.

Sadly, the 14th century plague was only the first wave of a persistent contagion. The Black Death returned to London several times, the worst being in 1665-6, when it killed 100,000 Londoners.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

California campground closed due to the plague!

The Los Alamos Campground, located in the Angeles National Forest, has been closed after a ground squirrel found there tested positive for the plague. Let me say that again, it tested positive for the plague!

The park was officially shut down on Saturday and will remain closed for at least ten days. During that time, officials will dust the squirrel burrows in the area for fleas in an attempt to prevent the spread of the disease. The plague spreads when infected rodents are bitten by fleas, who then go on to bite humans, passing along a bacteria that can bring on a severe fever, the chills, and a blood infection. In rare occasions, it can also lead to the pneumonic plague and possibly even death.

One form of the plague is the bubonic variety that spread across Europe in the 14th century, killing in excess of 25 million people.

But health officials have been quick to point out that there have been four cases of plague in Los Angeles County since 1984, and none of those were fatal. But just to be sure, they recommend visitors to the Angeles National Forest avoid squirrels and chipmunks while visiting the park, and wear insect repellent, preferably with DEET, to keep the fleas away.

When we consider the dangers of heading out into the wilderness to go camping, we usually think of bears or possibly exposure to weather conditions. I don’t think I’ve even once worried about the plague. Crazy!

[Photo credit: Benefactor123 via WikiCommons]