Anne Hailes: Bed bugs - Don't panic but stay vigilant

Anne Hailes

Anne Hailes

Anne is Northern Ireland's first lady of journalism, having worked in the media since she joined Ulster Television when she was 17. Her columns have been entertaining and informing Irish News readers for 25 years.

Bed bugs have laid waste to Paris, if the more excited media reports around the Rugby World Cup are to be believed...
Bed bugs have laid waste to Paris, if the more excited media reports around the Rugby World Cup are to be believed...

IT'S not a case of once bitten, twice shy because it seems there's no stopping them. They are the talk of the media these days but the word is, don't get too excited – here in Northern Ireland we aren't suffering any more than usual, and that's not a lot.

What is this topic? Bed bugs. If you can believe what you hear Paris is hopping with them and they are on the march across the channel travelling on live hosts like you and me, buried in our clothes and sucking our blood. They don't sting, they just munch away – I know, because they've had a go at me in a clean, well run hotel, and it's not nice.

Bed bugs on mattresses

Back in time, thatched cottages were home to insects of all sorts. They snuggled into the thatch, warm and cosy, as did mice, cats and dogs who went as high as possible to enjoy the rising heat. But they came to grief when it rained, falling off the straw or reeds and sliding to the ground, hence the saying 'it's raining cats and dogs'.

Often they would fall into the bedroom and the bed would be full of livestock so to counter this the woman of the house would have her man put posts top and bottom of the bed and then she'd hang a sheet over the top to afford some protection. And that's how canopy beds came into existence.

Might this fashion make a come back? Perhaps in Paris or in New York where, since the Great Bed Bug Scare of 2015 nearly every hotel has been affected, be it boutique, five star or a 55 storey hotel in Lower Manhattan, they've all been afflicted at some point since the 1990s.

Dealing with bed bugs isn't straightforward
Dealing with bed bugs isn't straightforward

Bed bug treatment

It's horrifying, once it has its host, it can live between 135 and 277 days without a meal, with a life expectancy of around 10 months. Lady bed bugs can give birth to as many as eight eggs per week, every week.

The UK saw a 65 per cent increase in infestations in the last year due to people travelling. This rise in numbers isn't surprising as there were fewer reported cases during the Covid lockdowns.

Treating them isn't straightforward and probably needs the help of professionals. When they were common before the Second World War DDT was a cheap and effective treatment but the sly little bugs became immune.

Getting rid of bed bugs

I talked to Glenn Wilson of Bullseye Pest Control in Lisburn and his message is, 'Don't panic but be vigilant'. There was a heightened awareness during the 2012 Olympics in London and with Euro 2028 football championships coming to NI there will be a lot of travellers from all arts and parts bringing bed bugs along for the ride.

The government in France is holding crisis meetings to tackle the scourge ahead of the Olympics next summer but they admit time is running out while Glenn reports: "We've been monitoring ever since the 2012 London Olympics so we're prepared."

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As a member of the British Pest Control Association, Glenn has studied these little monsters and the different stages of development – how they can lie dormant for months only to be awakened like Sleeping Beauty by human body temperature or vibration, and how they prefer our company rather than living together with their own kind.

"They crawl rather than jump and they can climb up into light sockets, to a tear in wallpaper, in furniture and lodge in clothing. When travelling back from holiday we recommend you secure your clothes in black bags and then wash them immediately you get home either in a hot wash of 70 degrees or put them in the freezer for a couple of days – they don't like that."


How to prevent a bed bug infestation

You can prevent an infestation by checking not only your mattress but round the frame of the bed, hoovering all round and underneath, checking curtains, drawers, cupboards.

But what are you looking for? It's not easy; they are no bigger than a grain of rice and oval shaped, have six legs and are coloured dark yellow, red or brown. The eggs are translucent white and appear on their own or in clusters.

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How to treat beg bug bites

And if they do bite, what should you do? The NHS recommends putting something cool on the bites, not to scratch and keep the area clean. A pharmacist might be able to recommend a steroid cream or an antihistamine.

How to get rid of bed bugs

So what's the answer? "Get in touch with a pest control company, arrange a call out and certainly, as far as we're concerned, if treatment is necessary, that cost will be deducted. Treatment can be chemical or non-chemical, using heat or a recommended strong insecticide which is safe when being administered in safe hands."

More from Bullseye Pest Control, Lisburn on 028 9268 8595