Last updated: Mar 02, 2016
Roshini Raj, MD, is Health's medical editor and co-author of What the Yuck?! The Freaky & Fabulous Truth About Your Body. Board-certified in gastroenterology and internal medicine, Dr. Raj is an assistant professor of medicine at New York University Medical Center and a contributor on the Today show. In our new book, Dr. Raj fields personal and provocative questions-about your body, sex, even celeb health fads.

Q:Bedbugs! Is it safe to shop? Go to the movies?

A: With popular New York clothing stores like Victoria's Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Hollister temporarily closing their doors due to bedbugs (Cimex lectularius), many of us are wondering if it's safe to shop, travel, or go to the movies anymore.

So how worried should you be? First, the good news: Bedbugs are not passed from person to person-they're only attached to humans for five or ten minutes while they feed on blood (ick factor: 10!). But-and here comes the bad part-they can jump onto your clothes, or into your handbag or shopping bag. And if they do, they're on a free ride to your place.

It's often hard to spot bedbugs, but they're flat, oval, rust-colored creatures, up to a quarter-inch long. There are several look-alike insects; check out a bedbug image here. Also inspect your furniture, mattress, and curtains for little brown spots, which are bedbug droppings. And be alert for small itchy red bumps in clusters or a row on your skin, signs the critters are feeding on you.

If you suspect you have them, call in a professional exterminator as soon as possible. In the meantime, remove all bed linens and wash-along with towels and potentially contaminated clothes-in hot water. Then dry them using the hottest setting on your dryer. You'll have to wash your sheets often, at least every three days, until the infestation is gone.

Also, thoroughly scrub furniture, flipping over nightstands and removing drawers. Vacuum all cracks and crevices in furniture; also vacuum along the walls. Then dispose of the vacuum bag or empty the canister immediately (deposit contents in a plastic bag, tie it off, and put it in the outdoor garbage can). Repeat frequently until the infestation is cleared.

To avoid taking them home from stores in the first place, keep your handbag and other totes off carpeted floors and furniture. In dressing rooms, hang your bags and jacket on the hook. If you really want to be proactive, as soon as you get home take off your clothes and throw them, along with your new purchases, in the wash. And steer clear of hot spots by checking out The Bedbug Registry for reports of bedbugs in hotels, apartments, and stores. You won't believe how many swanky hotels are bedbug-welcoming!

For more answers to embarrassing questions, check our out new book, What the Yuck?!