Watch out for this problem on vacation (it really bites)

A bug found by Anna Short and her family during her recent stay in Myrtle Beach, which she claims is a bed bug.
A bug found by Anna Short and her family during her recent stay in Myrtle Beach, which she claims is a bed bug. Courtesy Anna Short.

After a mild winter and a clear spring that’s brought visitors swarming to the Grand Strand, tourists should be aware of one of the possible hazards of a tourist town: bed bugs.

The bugs, which can live in mattresses, clothing, linens and other fabrics, leave painful red bites on people. They’re also difficult to track, and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control does not keep records of bed bug reports.

The S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs does take reports of bed bugs in commercial properties and apartment buildings, spokeswoman Juliana Harris said.

The agency does not have the regulatory authority to inspect for bed bugs or punish landlords and hoteliers, but Harris said they still receive about 15 calls a week reporting the pests across the state.

Some visitors have come away from their Grand Strand vacation with accounts of insects they claim are bed bugs.

Anna Short, of West Virginia, checked in to room 512 at the Holiday Inn at the Pavilion, at 1200 N. Ocean Blvd. in Myrtle Beach, on May 4.

She said the first part of her stay with her husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law was uneventful, and that she couldn’t detect any bugs. But on the morning of May 6, the group woke up with several bites among them.

“I woke up and I had this rash on my stomach, and I said, ‘What the Hell is that?’” Short said.

It wasn’t until the early morning hours of May 8, when the family was leaving, Short said, when they caught one of the bugs and took it to the night shift clerk.

The clerk offered to treat their clothes, Short said, but they had to leave in order to make the drive home. She said she called back several times after the visit, and the hotel told her they had not detected actual bed bugs in the room, which had a new family in it.

Clint Friddle, the general manager of the hotel, said the Holiday Inn location takes preventative measures to treat for bugs four times a year and has dogs search the hotel for them an additional two times annually.

He said when they get a report of bed bugs, the hotel calls a professional company to determine that the visitor hasn’t been bitten by sand mites or picked up bed bugs somewhere else.

“If [Short is] stating that people were in the room after she left, I would have to assume it was a negative reading,” Friddle told The Sun News. “We’re pretty aggressive on the elimination and preventing them from happening at all.”

But Short remains convinced the pests originated in that hotel, and that they could continue to bite future visitors to room 512.

“My clothes are still in my freezer because I’m scared to death, and I don’t want to think that I’m taking them home with me,” she said.

Other than reporting bed bugs to the state’s Consumer Affairs department, travelers have few options.

They can contact the local branch of the Better Business Bureau, which includes 15 counties in coastal South Carolina and North Carolina.

John D’Ambrosio, the president of that region, said, “Whether that business, hotel or [bed and breakfast] ... is an accredited business or not, we want to hear about those issues.”

The BBB will officially accredit a business based on ethics benchmarks if it scores at a B or higher, on an A through F scale. But D’Ambrosio said that the organization will try to mediate consumer issues with any business.

Friddle said that his hotel would offer to move guests, treat their clothes and possibly offer a free night if they do detect bed bugs.

In Short’s case, he said, “It sounds like we’ve handled it the correct way.”

Chloe Johnson: 843-626-0381, @_ChloeAJ