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Sunday, 13 August 2017

A problem bugging Malaysians

IT is a five-star hotel. A few years ago, they received “unwanted guests”.

It was also the worst case of bed bugs he had ever encountered as a pest control operator.

Pest Control Association of Malaysia president Tajudin Abd Kadir recounts how his company had to treat a room in the hotel three times before all the bugs were eradicated.

“The infestation level in the room was very high.

“There was a big colony of bed bugs and they were even in the carpet. We had to conduct two types of treatments to eliminate the bugs,” he recalls of the hotel, located in the east coast.

His company, he says, has seen a five to 10% increase in cases.

Tajudin says the association, which represents over 200 pest control operators, has also been encountering “stronger” bugs.

“It’s definitely more difficult to get rid of them now. They don’t die immediately.

“Our last resort is to fumigate a space for 24 hours but not all industry players can do this as they require a licence from the authorities,” he explains.

Cases affecting hotel rooms can be quite severe because if one room is affected, all adjoining rooms will also have to be closed and treated, says Rentokil Initial technical director Juliana Soo.

One of the most unique cases dealt by the company involved a client whose legs were severely bitten by bed bugs at his home in Kuala Lumpur.

He couldn’t sense it because he was paralysed from waist down, she says.

“Upon checking, we found that his mattress and wheelchair were both infested but we couldn’t throw them away. (The man could not afford to buy new ones.)

They later found out that the source of the infestation was from a neighbour who frequently visited the man. The company checked the neighbour’s house and found bed bugs there.

The fact that a five-star hotel can be infested with bed bugs shows that cleanliness has little to do with the problem.

“The bug just needs to be brought in by a host,” says Dr Abdul Hafiz Ab Majid, a senior lecturer from Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Biological Sciences.

The urban and molecular entomologist also believes the bugs started becoming more resilient about 10 years ago, noting that genetic changes take a long time to develop.

But while they have become tougher, Dr Abdul Hafiz’s studies found that these insects have an odd trait – they are fussy about their food, namely human blood.

“They prefer to feed on human blood at specifically 37°C. In my lab, the bugs are fed with artificial feeding devices using blood which has to be maintained at that temperature.

“If it is 36° or 38°, they won’t go for it,” he says.

But the main challenge to rid these pests is the lack of knowledge among Malaysians about them.

Many Malaysians mistake bed bugs for small cockroaches and beetles.

“Their eggs – white, tiny specks, also resemble dandruff,” Dr Abdul Hafiz says.

“We will need a combination of methods to control such pests if chemical treatment alone is not enough,” he says, suggesting alternative methods like heat treatment, which involves increasing the temperature in a space to kill the bugs and its eggs.

Concurring about the low awareness among Malaysians, Tajudin laments that some Malaysians don’t even know what bed bugs look like.

“Malaysia should consider having regulations to certify places that are bed bug-free buildings,” he says.

Tajudin also suggests that awareness programmes on bed bug infestations be held, similar to those for dengue fever and leptospirosis to increase public awareness and prevent infestations.

Major bed bug infestations were reported in several countries, including a courtroom in Kentucky, United States which had to be shut down last month. Just days after that, the Houses of Parliament in the United Kingdom were reported to be “crawling with bed bugs” and a pest control team was sent there to take “urgent action”.

In 2010, the Google office in New York was also found to be infested with the bugs.

Closer to home, a Singapore permanent resident, who took a bus from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore late last year, recounted on Facebook about her ordeal of being bitten by bed bugs.

Related stories:

Sleeping with the enemy

Bed bugs – a painful, sleepless nightmare

Travelling tips

Tags / Keywords: bed bugs , rentokil , ridpest , pests

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