The United Kingdom is dealing with an exponential increase in bed bug infestations this summer due to the brutal heat, according to experts.
During higher temperatures, the reproductive cycles of the bugs shortens from 18-21 days to eight or nine days, a bed bug exterminator told the Guardian.
“The problem has been spreading globally since the late 1990s, and there is literally no country on the face of the planet that hasn’t had a bed bug problem,” David Cain, of Bed Bugs Limited, told the British newspaper.
Reluctance to seek help because of the social stigma attached to bed bugs contributes to the problem, as well, and since many people won’t have a physical reaction, they may not realize there’s been an infestation, according to the paper.
Bed bugs are parasitic insects that feed on blood and tend to be most active at night. Bed bug bites can cause skin rashes and allergic symptoms and have a psychological effect.
Tony Lewis, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said the persistent bed bug presence in the U.K. was made worse in the summer by higher temperatures and people returning from holiday with bed bugs in their luggage. “It doesn’t matter if they’ve been staying in a five-star hotel or a dingy B&B, the chances of encountering bedbugs are equal,” he said.
Although bed bugs were common in the United Kingdom 100 years ago, they were mostly eradicated by the use of insecticides. Now, bed bugs have developed resistance to some chemical treatments.
“This insect has developed to be the most efficient and adaptive hunter of human beings that we’ve probably ever had,” said Cain. “If people are fearful of sharks, the answer is to stay out of the water. When it comes to bedbugs, the answer is to be permanently on guard.”
A London woman had been scratching her arms and legs for about a month before she sought professional help, according to the paper.
“I was waking up every morning with bites which I thought were from mosquitoes, although no one else was suffering. My boyfriend mentioned bedbugs, but I completely dismissed it. In my mind, bedbugs were found in crusty backpackers’ hostels in other countries—I didn’t think it could happen to us,” she told the Guardian.
When she finally lifted her mattress and found a handful of bugs crawling around, she broke down and wept. "I was totally repulsed and panicked," she said.
She is now in the middle of a 14-day program of eradication and monitoring, which involves washing bedding and clothes at 60 degrees, and a deep clean of the bedroom. Her partner’s office has been identified as a potential source.
Cain explained: “Bed bugs can happen to anyone. ... Lots of people equate bed bugs with dirt, but dirt has nothing to do with it.”
The insects have been found in hotels worldwide, including in high-end spots like the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan. Air India had to ground two of its planes in July after passengers reported being covered in gruesome bed bug bites after their flights.