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Bed bug menace in parts of Europe raises travel concerns in UAE

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Dubai: Rampant bed bug infestation has been hitting the headlines in some European cities in recent weeks, sparking fears over the global spread of the bugs during the impending holiday season.

Gulf News spoke to Dubai-based pest control expert Dinesh Ramachandran, Technical & Safety, Health and Environment Manager, Rentokil Boecker, to find out if there was anything residents could do to protect themselves from the bugs when they travel to affected areas or have people from these countries visit them in the UAE. Some key questions and answers from the exclusive interview:

How aware are UAE residents about the bed bug menace in parts of Europe?

We have been receiving multiple requests from residents who have recently travelled to France or have guests visiting them to have their luggage inspected and treated. There has been an increase in enquiries in general from the residential and hospitality sector following the news on the recent bed bug outbreak in Europe.

Bed bugs are a worldwide public health concern and their infestations in the region have surged in recent years due to increased travel, globalisation, rise in temperatures and climate change.

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are bloodsucking parasites that primarily target humans. Tropical bed bugs found in the GCC are oval-shaped with a chestnut to reddish-brown colour and fat body. They are nocturnal and active primarily before dawn. They are visible to the naked eye but are skilled in concealing themselves.

Where are bed bugs found and how do they spread?

Contrary to what most people believe, bed bugs are not confined to just mattresses and bed frames. They can also be found on our clothing, furniture, wall crevices and behind loose wallpaper. They can also be found in electrical sockets.

Bed bugs lack the ability to fly; instead, they travel by hitchhiking on personal items such as luggage, second-hand furniture, public transport like taxis, aeroplanes, airport buses, the metro, hotels and public places in general.

Why are they a menace?

Bed bugs not only cause discomfort and sleepless nights for people, but can also be difficult and expensive to eliminate. They typically bite once a week for a few minutes.

They can cause a lot of mental anxiety for people. In the case of hotels, bed bug infestations can tarnish their reputation and result in revenue losses, so it can be a huge cause of concern. Bed bugs are a menace because they multiply very quickly. A single female bed bug can lay hundreds of eggs.

Can bed bug bites cause infections in humans?

Bites are painless and often go away unnoticed. For some, it can cause itchiness. Scratching the bite mark can lead to risk of infection.

What are the signs of bed bug activity?

Residents and hotel staff, particularly housekeeping, should conduct daily inspections for bed bugs, especially in cases of recent infestation. These regular inspections should primarily target areas where bed bugs are most likely to be found. These include:

Inspect mattresses, their seams, headboards, box springs, frames, wallpaper, chairs, side tables and cracks. Look for small black spots resembling mould, blood stains, adult insects, nymphs and eggs. Dinesh Ramachandran

How can I ensure that bed bugs don’t enter my home?

Preventive measures as per Dubai Municipality include sealing and repairing cracks in the walls, ensuring good ventillation at home, inspecting used furniture brought home and using a vacuum cleaner to clean areas around beds, curtians, room edges and carpets.

If you are concerned that you may have picked up bed bugs, you should inspect everything that you or your guests bring home (luggage, purse and other belongings) for signs of bed bugs. You want to look for blackish specks, drops of blood and shell-like remains.

If possible, inspect everything before you bring it inside your home. If you see signs of bed bugs or strongly suspect that you might have brought bed bugs home, you should immediately:

Wash all clothing in a washing machine. Even clothes that you didn’t wear must be washed in hot water. If you cannot wash something in a washing machine. Dry your clothes after washing them in a clothes dryer, using the hot setting. Use a hand steamer to clean your luggage. Even otherwise, vacuum furniture, carpets regularly. Encase mattresses and box springs in bug-proof covers. Regularly launder bedding and towels on high heat. Seal cracks and crevices in walls and floors. Train housekeeping staff to identify and report bed bugs.

What precautions can I take while travelling?

Use hard-cased luggage if possible. It is more difficult for bed bugs to attach to rigid materials than to fabric. Pack your clothing in re-sealable plastic bags. Pack a small, bright flashlight to inspect your room when you arrive. Place your luggage on a hard elevated surface – not on the floor, and not on upholstered furniture. If you can’t find a suitable surface, put your luggage in a dry bathtub, or leave it in your car until you’ve done a quick inspection. Examine beds and box springs by pulling up the sheets at the corners and sides. Check mattress tufts and seams for bed bugs and their markings. Do a quick check of pillows and upholstered furniture for signs of bed bugs. If you can, check behind headboards and open the drawers of the nightstands and look inside. For short stays, consider keeping your clothes in your luggage. Keep bags closed when not in use. If you find signs of bed bugs, tell the manager right away, and request another room.

What about hotels?

The same measures hold good. But in addition, during check-in, hotels should identify and flag high-risk guests by inquiring about recent travel history and bed bug concerns.

How do you eliminate bed bugs?

Conventional treatment involves application of approved chemicals in the recommended dosage. Usually, a two or three-part visit will be required if chemical treatment is carried out at planned intervals to ensure the life cycle of bed bugs is terminated.

Alternate options include use of IGRs (Insect Growth Regulators) along with adulticides. Chemical treatment is followed by a detailed inspection to locate the source of bed bugs. It also involves a number of pre- and post-treatment recommendations.

Other methods include heat treatment which involves use of thermal energy and thermal death point of bed bugs. Heat treatment kills all stages of bed bugs, is non-toxic and odourless. It takes about six to eight hours, but a one-time activity unlike chemical treatments.

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