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Sunday, 13 August 2017 | MYT 12:00 AM

Sleeping with the enemy

Bed bug infestations are on the rise in Malaysia, with some creepy crawlies becoming more resistant against pesticides.

THEY are the hitchhikers that you can’t see.

And when you sleep at night, they feast on your blood. But this is no ghost story.

Bed bug infestations are a real life horror and cases in Malaysia have gone up.

It has been brisk business for pest control operators, some dealing with almost double the number of complaints from the public.

The bugs hide close to you – in the slivers of your mattress, bed frames, electrical wiring and crevices in walls.

But their favourites are places with cushions, including seats in buses, airplanes and cinemas.


One cause for the spike, say operators, is the increase in travel among the people. Known to “hitchhike” humans, these insects and their eggs can latch onto your body, clothes and belongings, and breed when you come home.

They feed on human blood and their bites can cause itchiness or more severe reactions to those allergic to it.

Malaysia’s hot and humid weather isn’t helping either, as it is ideal for them to breed faster – taking one month to hatch from an egg to full adult size.

To top it off, they are also harder to kill now, as these local bugs have developed more resistance towards certain pesticides.

“One of the ways they have adapted is by developing harder cuticles,” explains urban and molecular entomologist Dr Abdul Hafiz Ab Majid.

“While they are not 100% immune to it, they are now more resistant towards pyrethroid-based insecticides,” he says of the chemical commonly found in insecticides for mosquitoes.

From just one treatment, it now takes four to five rounds to completely kill them.

READ ALSO: A painful, sleepless nightmare


Based on Dr Abdul Hafiz’s survey in 2015, one pest control company dealt with an average of 16 cases a year. But this has increased to between 20 and 25 cases in 2016, he estimates.

Pest control operators also tell Sunday Star that such cases have increased between 10% and 100% as of June this year compared to last year.

A 30% jump in the number of cases was received by Rentokil Initial from January to June this year compared to the same period last year. One of the reasons for this is the increase in travelling, says Rentokil Initial (Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei) Sdn Bhd managing director Carol Lam.

“Bed bugs primarily attach themselves on humans and belongings like suitcases and clothes.

“You could also be at risk of bringing them home during your commute on public transportation,” she says.

Bed bugs can also travel from your neighbours’ house or spread by guests who visit your home.

In fact, 83% of the cases received by the company, are from homes.

The remaining 17% are from commercial areas, with top places being hotels and resorts (8.5%), offices (2.2%), and industrial and non-food manufacturing premises (1.9%).


READ ALSO: Not just homes 

Other places like cinemas have also been inspected.

Between 2013 and this year so far, over 2,000 bed bug cases have been received by the company nationwide.

Cautioning home owners, offices and hotel operators to be more vigilant, Lam says infestations can lead to financial losses.

“Mattresses had to be thrown out in some severe cases in workers’ hostels.

“In another case, the walls of a rented house had to be repainted due to the dark droppings left behind by bed bugs,” she says.

Due to its high density, Rentokil Initial technical director Juliana Soo says the company receives many cases in the Klang Valley.

“Bed bugs cannot really be prevented. Your home can be spotless but there can be an infestation as long as the bug is present,” she says.

However, the public can always check for the tell tale signs such as dark spots and stains or the bug’s “faecal pellets” on mattresses and seats with cushion at home or in hotels.

“Always inspect your clothes and ensure no live insects hitchhike on it. Check where you are about to put your suitcase in hotels and public areas,” she says.


For Ridpest Sdn Bhd, most bed bug reports received are from condominiums and apartments.

“We have dealt with 24 cases last year.

“But as of June this year, we recorded infestations at 26 premises. At this rate, it is almost a 100% increase,” says company chief executive officer Stephen Liu.

However, he says bed bug cases in Malaysia are relatively low compared to termites, cockroaches and rats.

But that doesn’t mean Malaysians can let their guard down.

“There is a probability of bed bugs being present in public transportation, especially trains and buses that travel long distances,” he says, adding that this is, however, quite rare.

Liu advises Malaysians to vacuum their luggage and wash clothing using hot water to kill adult bugs and eggs after travelling.

READ ALSO: Travelling tips

While bed bugs don’t carry diseases, their bites can cause itchiness at night, leading to sleep deprivation.

Calling them “a biting nuisance”, Health Ministry disease control division director Dr Chong Chee Kheong says scratching too much can also increase chances of having secondary skin infections.

“The ministry doesn’t monitor local bed bug cases as they don’t transmit diseases.

“But we will investigate and implement control measures if the infestation is notified as a major public health problem,” he says.

Dr Chong says there have been public complaints on infestations in hotels and guest houses where no preventive measures were taken.

“The infestation usually happens during the shifting of furniture, bedding, luggage and clothing.

“Unclean areas tend to have bigger chances being infested,” he explains.

Dr Chong advises the public to regularly check their homes and be aware of the signs of an infestation.

“Home owners should also avoid using second-hand furniture,” he adds.