Until recently it is likely that only the environmental health officers of your local council would have had even the slightest interest in Cimex lectularius, or to give it its more usual name, the ‘common bedbug’. Yet recent reports from France have elevated public awareness of bedbugs to a point where reports to environmental health departments and exterminators have increased.
A spokesman for Luton Council told the BBC that the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, using data from the Pest Control company Rentokil, reported that there was a 65% increase in bedbug reports year on year. The spokesperson added:
“Locally we have seen a much smaller increase. We have received 86 calls relating to bedbugs for the year ending September 2022/23, compared to 81 in 2021/22. The most recent month, September 2023, saw 15 calls compared to 12 in September 2022.”
‘Don’t let the bedbugs bite’
For the majority of the public, the only real contact that they may have had with a bedbug is the old saying associated with going to sleep. But what is the danger of a bedbug?
According to the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, the risks include allergies to their droppings and the remains once the bug dies, both of which can trigger asthmatic attacks. Should a bug bite you then it can cause hives, rashes, itching and burning. In rare or extreme cases, they can also cause infections and anaphylaxis.
However, contrary to some reports on social media, clinical studies have not shown any evidence that bedbugs are able to transfer some conditions such as HIV, MRSA or the viruses for Hepatitis B, C and E.
Bedbugs are nocturnal and tend to hide away in nooks and crannies in the house near the bed during the day, making it harder to detect them. They have been brought into houses through second-hand furniture or clothing, or when people have returned home from holidays, where the bugs have been able to transfer to clothes from drawers or beds.
Are bedbugs something to worry about?
Bedbugs are not a new problem. In 2022, for example, there were two reports of outbreaks of bedbugs in East Anglia, one in Norwich, the other in Ipswich. Earlier this year a landlord in Barking and Dagenham had to pay over £14,000 to his tenants after they were found to be in a ‘hazardous’ flat which included damp, mould and bedbugs.
Commenting on recent coverage, Prof. Robert Smith, Professor Emeritus at the University of Huddersfield, told the Sciencemediacentre.org website, “Increasing numbers of reports of bedbugs (in Luton and elsewhere) are likely to reflect widespread media coverage over the last week or so.”
He added that the level of infestations has increased worldwide, probably due to evolving resistance to insecticides. Restrictions in the availability and use of some insecticides might also be a factor.
What has caused the increase in cases of bedbugs?
Historically, bedbugs have been associated with the poorer in society, given the use of mass shelters and communal living, which provided suitable breeding grounds. That distinction may not be so relevant now, but the increased prevalence of people using online sources for items such as second-hand furniture may be a more recent factor.
Treating the bedbugs problem
According to the NHS website, there are a number of things you should and should not do when trying to deal with bedbugs. It also makes clear that it may not be possible to deal with the infestation completely on your own. It recommends that you contact your local council or a pest control service. You should wash bedding and clothes affected on a hot washing cycle of over 60 degrees C and then dry in a tumble dryer on a hot setting for a least half an hour.
Avoid keeping clutter around the bed as this will provide somewhere for the bedbugs to hide during the day, making them harder to spot and for the pest control contractor to treat the infestation. Pest control contractors will charge, of course, but a local authority may also charge to treat the problem.
Bedbugs are a pest, but they are not a harbinger or carrier of disease, so when you do fall asleep tonight, please, try not to have nightmares.