When large-scale bedbug infestations were reported in university hostels and high school dormitories a while back, many people were incredulous. However, the bugs have spread to many households in the recent past, especially in urban areas such as Nairobi, Mombasa and Nakuru. The small, oval, brownish insects that feed solely on human blood are giving many Kenyans sleepless nights. However, due to the social stigma of having bedbugs in one’s home, many people do not seek the professional help and try to exterminate the blood-sucking insects on their own, often to no avail.
Mr Job Naibei, the CEO of pest termination company Intex Pest Ltd, who has eight years’ experience in pest elimination, says the pests not only cause people sleepless nights, but also cause them psychological trauma in the form of immense stress and anxiety.
“Eighty per cent of our work involves bedbug eradication. In Nairobi alone, we fumigate more than 10 houses infested by bedbugs, every” says Mr Naibei.
He attributes the increase in infestation to the country’s high reliance on a public transport system. “Many people unwittingly pick up bedbugs from matatus – and even airplanes. We fumigate matatus frequently. Just last week, we were at an airport getting rid of bedbugs from more than a dozen planes belonging to a local airline!” he adds.
Also contributing to the spread of bedbugs is the second-hand clothing (mitumba) market, he says
“Some of these imported clothes come with bedbugs, so we visit godowns in Gikomba and Muthurwa markets every weekend to fumigate the clothes before they hit the stalls,” Mr Naibei reveals.
But you can also bring bedbugs into your home via infested second-hand furniture or vehicles. Mr Naibei warns that you should not bring in any such item without thoroughly inspecting it for bedbug infestation. And don’t assume new items aren’t a problem; inspect them too, if possible.
He quickly adds that the presence of bedbugs in a home is not necessarily a sign of poor hygiene or low socio-economic status. “You will be surprised that we get rid of bedbugs in just as many residences in Runda and Lavington as we do in Eastlands,” he says. “There are even people who regard bedbugs as demonic and take clerics to their homes to pray for the pests to go away.”
But even if you are careful, bedbugs can still find their way into your home. They are great hitchhikers and can latch onto your suitcase after a night in a hotel, or attach themselves to a visitor’s hair.
So, how do you know that your home is infested?
“Just looking for bites on one’s skin is not enough,” says Mr Naibei. “This is because it is hard to tell a bedbug bite from that of other insects like, say a mosquito. Besides, some people do not react to bedbug bites.”
If you suspect you have bedbugs in your house, first look out for red stains on your bedsheets and mattress, which appear when you crush the bugs. Also look out for bedbug excrement, which appears as small, dark spots. Meanwhile, bedbug eggs are white, oval-shaped and smaller than a grain of rice.
“If you spot any of these, contact a professional for assistance as soon as possible because it will cost far much less than tackling widespread infestation,” Mr Naibei suggests.
You can live with bedbugs in your home for months and only notice the problem after the infestation has spread. Mr Naibei says this is because bedbugs hide in cracks as narrow as a national identity card, where the female lays about five eggs a day. The eggs hatch in about a week.
Mr Habib Abudlrazak, whose two-bedroom apartment in Kasarani on the outskirts of Nairobi was infested with the bugs, knows just how much misery they can cause when, after abandoning his house for three months, he found the bugs still there upon his return.
“I have no idea where they came from. I thought if I did not sleep in my house for some time, they might starve and die,” he told DN2.
However, Mr Naibei says trying to starve bedbugs is ineffective since they can go for up to 300 days without food.
“I bought various chemicals that cost me Sh15,000 but they were ineffective,” Mr Abdulrazak laments.
Mr Naibei says that pesticides bought over the counter rarely work because of ineffective application, and the fact that bedbugs develop resistance to most chemicals.
“Many hawkers and agro-vet owners sell various agricultural chemicals as a remedy for bedbugs. This does not eliminate the bedbugs but instead makes them resistant to chemicals, and thus harder to kill.”
He says a professional pest termination company “is usually licensed to access powerful chemicals that cannot be handled by ordinary citizens”. So by contracting professionals, you also avoid exposing yourself to harmful chemicals.”
A popular home remedy used by many people is soaking bedding in hot water and pouring hot water on the surfaces where bedbugs are spotted. While this might provide temporary relief, it is not sustainable.
“Bedbugs usually die when exposed to temperatures above 45 degrees centigrade, hence the logic behind soaking one’s bedding in hot water. However, many people who have tried the method usually complain that the bugs return after a few days,” he says.
He recalls a case in which a local bus company tried to rid its vehicles of bedbugs by removing all the seats and soaking them in hot water. Within a week, clients were complaining about the bugs, especially during night travel.
Airing your bedding in the sun does not help much either as bedbugs can withstand pretty high emperatures.
At Mr Abdulrazak’s house, a quick inspection revealed that the bedbugs had spread to the living room and kitchen. Using a backpack-spray and wearing protective clothing and gas masks, a team from a pest elimination firm applied pesticide in every crevice in the house and on the furniture,
Mr Abdulrazak was also given a special solution in which to soak all his laundry for 10 minutes to eliminate the remaining bedbugs and kill their eggs. He was advised to get rid of clutter around the house and conduct inspections every two months to ensure the bugs had not returned.
Since bedbugs tend to breed and live inside furniture, some people, perhaps in desperation, hrow out such furniture. in an attempt to get rid of the bugs.
But Mr Naibei strongly advises against this, saying that with the help of professional pest exterminators, most of the furniture and fittings in a home can be treated and saved. Besides, throwing out stuff is not only expensive, but can worsen the problem by spreading bedbugs to other people’s homes.