Bed bug

Bed bug infestations are growing in the UK

UK sees bed bug outbreaks increase by nearly two-thirds in 12 months after a slowdown during the pandemic
07 September 2023 , Steve Smethurst

Exposure to droppings can trigger asthmatic attacks, while bites can cause rashes or more severe reactions such as anaphylaxis

Figures from pest-control company Rentokil suggest the UK is facing a significant rise in bed bug infestations. It has reported a 65% increase year-on-year from 2022 (Q2) to 2023 (Q2).

Bed bugs can spread rapidly – a female adult can lay up to 10 eggs a day, and 200-500 eggs in their lifetime – meaning prompt detection and taking swift, effective action are key to controlling an infestation.

Health risks include allergies to their droppings and remains, which can cause asthmatic attacks. Additionally, allergies to the bite can trigger hives, rashes, itching and burning. More rarely, some people develop severe systemic reactions such as infections and anaphylaxis.

In August, a landlord was ordered by Barking and Dagenham Council to refund his tenants almost £15,000 in rent after he left them living in 'disgusting conditions', which included a severe case of bed bugs.

Paul Blackhurst, Technical Academy Head at Rentokil Pest Control, said: “Many of us will never have seen a bed bug, but they are relatively common overseas and are adept hitchhikers, latching onto humans for transportation, driven by their attraction to body heat and the need for their next blood meal. 

“Contrary to their name, they are not only found in beds and will very often be found in the cracks under skirting boards, behind wallpaper or even in electrical sockets and fittings.”

Natalie Bungay, Technical Manager at the British Pest Control Association (BPCA), said she wasn’t surprised at the findings. “Reports of bed bug activity tend to increase in the summer as people travel more. The lack of travel during Covid-19 lockdowns meant bed bug issues were few and far between, so it’s not surprising we’re now seeing a rapid rise in call outs.”

But Bungay warned that DIY treatments for bed bugs are unlikely to be successful. “They are notoriously tricky to deal with, so we always recommend contacting a pest professional, such as a BPCA member, who will have the technical knowledge and experience to create a control plan that minimises risk to the environment and non-target species.”

“Unfortunately, these unwanted pests are becoming resistant to insecticides, which is making it much harder for pest controllers to control and eliminate infestations…”

Professor James Logan, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine agreed that a rise in infestations was to be expected. He said: “As we return to pre-pandemic levels of travel, it is no surprise that bed bugs are on the move.

“These bugs come out at night, attracted by the heat and body odour of a person sleeping. While they don’t transmit diseases, their bites can cause swollen welts and rashes. Further, an ongoing bed bug infestation can lead to mental health implications and stress for the victim. 

“Unfortunately, these unwanted pests are becoming resistant to insecticides, which is making it much harder for pest controllers to control and eliminate infestations, with significant health and economic consequences.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

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