ABU DHABI // The UAE is suffering from a bed-bug infestation, and the bugs are become increasingly resistant to the chemicals used to control them, pest control companies say. "They are just everywhere," said Dinesh R, the operations manager of National Pest Control, which has offices in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. "They are found in public transport, buses, in labour camps, shared accommodation, posh limos and villas. It's just everywhere at the moment."
The Ministry of Environment and Water has increased the limits on the kinds of pesticides available to licensed pest control companies after two of five-month-old triplets died when pest controllers sprayed their neighbour's home in Ajman in late March. According to Mr R, the limited access to chemicals means that bed bugs are becoming more resistant to the fumigations. "We swap the chemicals once every three months so that the bugs don't grow immune to certain pesticides. A lot of chemicals are unavailable in the market these days," he said.
Pest control companies have reported an increase in call-outs. The bugs are more active during the summer due to the heat and humidity, but remain a problem year-round, according to pest experts. "The incidences are increasing," said Mr R. "Out of 10 inquiries, seven of them are for bed bugs." The bugs, about 5mm long, are transported in people's clothing and personal items into rooms where they can hide in mattresses and bed frames, under bed bases, in skirting boards, wall sockets and even paintings. They can also be found in furniture and vehicles. Although bed bugs can live for up to 18 months without food, they usually feed every eight days. They come out only at night, and only to feed, which can make it difficult for pesticides to be effective without multiple applications. In a standard guest room in a hotel, National Pest Control staff would spend 45 minutes examining the room to learn which areas are affected before fumigating. "Spraying only takes 20-30 minutes," said Mr R. "It's the inspection that takes longer, and you have to get it right or you won't have a good success rate." Many of the hotels in the emirate perform pest control treatment once every two to three months, which housekeeping staff say protects against infestations. "If there are bed bugs, we treat it straight way. But, we don't really get any bed bugs any more, the schedule is pretty effective," said Malik Desa at the Al Diar Sands hotel in Abu Dhabi. National Pest Control has begun developing non-toxic options for treating infestations, such as using carbon dioxide foam to "freeze" the bugs. "It's a premium service, but we've supplied these treatments to some clients. Our clients can stand in the room next to us while we do the treatment." said Mr R. Dubai Municipality officials require pest-control firms to provide a list of all the pesticides they use along with registration certificates issued by the Ministry of Environment and Water to show they fall within safety guidelines. However, according to Dr Alan Dickson, the founder of Ridapest, there is little opportunity to monitor "rogue" unlicensed pest control outfits which offer cheaper services or people who attempt to fumigate on their own. "They treat their own accommodation with this gas, which comes in a tablet form, and then it will kill people sleeping in the next unit. In general, it [gases pest control companies are using] should be safe." In June, a Nepalese man and a Indian woman were killed in Sharjah after their lodgings were fumigated by colleagues using banned pesticides. "The trouble is, you can buy chemicals in flower shops that I'm not allowed to use because the Ministry of Agriculture allows them for agricultural use and not for pest control use," Dr Dickson said. "They shouldn't be allowed to be sold to the general public, and this is what has been happening in most accidents like this. I mean, the gas involved in these accidents shouldn't be used indoors," he added. firstname.lastname@example.org * With additional reporting by Katie Boucher