• Nothing New Under the Mattress

One of the most fascinating things I’ve discovered in researching The Viper Amulet (my in-progress sequel to Rubies of the Viper) is the fact that it was relatively easy to travel throughout the Roman world in the 1st Century. Paved roads and roadside inns were widely available along all the major routes.

Unfortunately, so were bedbugs.

The greatest travel-related challenge in ancient times is also becoming a major challenge in ours: avoiding bedbugs in the places where we stop for the night. No first-century traveler was immune from the dratted things, and increasingly, that seems to be the case today. Bedbug infestations reportedly rose 80% from 2000 to 2010.

The bedbug turns out to be one of man’s oldest pests. The blood-thirsty little critters have been sharing our beds—and chomping away on us in the wee hours—all the way back to prehistoric times. We evolved together, apparently.

The bedbug that is making its presence felt in hotels from Albany to Zanesville is small, but it’s big enough to see if you look for it. During the day, it snoozes under mattresses and in carpets, or maybe tucked away in cracks and crevices. At night, it crawls out for a fancy feast of human blood. If it’s in the bed and you’re in the bed, it will find you… and you won’t know a thing until your arms, legs, or torso—or all of them—begin to itch.

A serious case of bedbug bites can create a widespread rash of raised red bumps that itches like heck. Unfortunately, the more you scratch it the worse it itches and the greater the risk of infection. We at least can call on antibiotics and anti-itch creams to deal with the problem. I’m digging around to find out if there were any herbal remedies available in the first century, because my characters really could use them!

But even with our antibiotics and creams, we moderns can’t be too complacent. This vile beastie has developed a resistence to insecticides and seems to have learned that today’s travelers—with our multiple layers of clothing, commodius suitcases, and continent-hopping habits—are irresistible traveling companions.

So, I guess it’s true: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

—text copyright © Martha Marks—