SUNDAY, March 03, 2024
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The bugs in our beds: insecticide purchases soar in Asia

The bugs in our beds: insecticide purchases soar in Asia

Bed bugs have been making headlines over the past few months, starting with reports from Europe and spreading to the US. Now they have infiltrated Asia.

This has led several countries to swiftly initiate measures to eradicate them, while citizens rush to purchase insecticides, resulting in a surge in sales of several hundred per cent.

These tiny blood-sucking insects commonly inhabit beds, posing a menacing threat and a challenge that needs to be tackled worldwide. The infestation originated in Paris, France, then spread across Europe and the US. The bed bugs have now reached numerous countries in Asia, including South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and Singapore, instilling fear among populations, who are urging their governments to urgently eliminate these pests.

South Korea has escalated its cleaning efforts. Since early November, at least 13 people have reported allergic reactions due to bed bug bites, prompting the government to launch extensive eradication measures. Special units have been formed to manage bed bugs, and citizens are urged to promptly call in state officials to conduct insect extermination in high-risk areas like public bathrooms, transportation systems, and dormitories.

Also in South Korea, websites have been established to track outbreaks and government efforts to manage bed bugs independently. Reports from Yonhap News in South Korea reveal an over 800% increase in sales of insecticides at a particular department store during the first weeks of November compared to the same period last year. Similarly, Bloomberg reported a minimum 30% increase in the stock prices of pest control companies in South Korea following news about bed bugs.

Furthermore, legal professionals are urging the government to implement cleaning practices in high-risk areas for bed bug infestation.

Hong Kong is attempting to eradicate foreign bed bug infestations. As the most densely populated city globally, it has also become concerned about the bed bug problem. Airport authorities distribute leaflets about bed bug outbreaks to tourists upon arrival. Health authorities state they are working rigorously to reduce the chances of spreading foreign bed bug species locally.

Meanwhile, citizens are taking personal measures to protect against bed bugs by purchasing insecticides online, leading to a 172-fold increase in sales of bed bug prevention products.

However, Professor Jiu Xiu-wai warns that bed bugs have become the second most prevalent blood-sucking insects in Hong Kong, just after mosquitoes. This is due to their excellent adaptation to Hong Kong's warm and humid conditions, providing both darkness and warmth.

The public's awareness has had a positive impact on pest control companies like

Francisco Pazos, the director of NoBedBugs HK. He stated that his business has doubled in November, with over 400 additional jobs.

Lin Jian-Leung, a spokesman for the New Taipei City pest control company, Johnson Group, mentioned a doubling in their customer base since the hot season. Part of this increase is attributed to Taiwan lifting travel restrictions in October 2022.

Yet, some clients remain anxious and demand repeated extermination services, despite having hired them recently.

“While we assure everything has been thoroughly disinfected, some still feel apprehensive,” Lin stated.

Singapore and Japan are also witnessing increased reports of bed bug sightings, prompting citizens to start cleaning their homes. 

Darian Lee, owner of a pest control company in Singapore, revealed a 10-15% rise in service requests since the bed bug outbreak in France. She added, “Bed bugs have always been around, but people only pay attention once it's in the news.”

The bugs are becoming harder to kill. With people worldwide returning to normal travel after the Covid-19 pandemic, the widespread distribution of these bugs has occurred due to human cross-continental travel. These insects, being small in size, can hide in every nook and cranny, within clothes and travel bags. As people travel to areas infested with these bugs, they inadvertently carry them to various places.

Lee Chao-Yang, a professor of urban entomology at the University of California Riverside, told The New York Times that it’s not surprising to see an increased spread of these bugs in Asia-Pacific, similar to their spread across Europe.

"Imagine someone checks into a hotel in Bangkok where there are bugs, and then these bugs end up in their travel bags. When that person travels to Singapore, the bugs that accompany them will spread in the new location," said Lee.

Professor Lee also mentioned that these bugs have once again become a problem, a resurgence observed about 25 years ago in Europe, gradually spreading to the United States and Asia. What’s concerning is the bugs' ability to develop their own strains for survival, whether through rapid breeding or adaptation.

There are generally two strains of these bugs found: one thriving in warmer climates, while the other survives in hot and semi-hot areas. However, due to increasingly stable indoor environments from air conditioning systems, both strains can now thrive in the same place.

Another trend is their increased resistance to insecticides, a problem prevalent in Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea, and other countries. Consequently, there’s a need for intense heat treatments to eliminate these resilient bugs. However, the cost of using heat is significantly higher—up to 10 times more expensive than using insecticides—leading most pest control companies to continue using insecticides until a more effective and affordable method is available.

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