No major bed bug outbreaks have been reported in the past weeks, health authorities said on Wednesday.

The clarification comes as concerns mount about outbreaks in London and Paris reaching Malta.

Despite that assurance, a local pest control expert says that he has seen a dramatic increase in requests to deal with bed bug infestations since the summer. 

Reports of bed bug infestation in Paris started shortly before Paris Fashion Week, inspiring memes of the bloodsuckers accompanying supermodels.  Concerns ramped up when commuters reported the insect spreading on public transport.

The panic then crossed the channel to the UK, with hotels, transport companies and local governments facing increased reports of the pest. 

Bed bug infestations are not statutory notifiable in Malta, meaning people are not legally obliged to report infestations to health authorities.

However, the Environmental Health Directorate (EHD) nonetheless investigates and addresses complaints it receives from the public. 

“While there have been some isolated reports of bed bug infestations in the past, there have been no major outbreaks reported recently,” a health ministry spokesperson told Times of Malta

Exterminator: 'We're getting 10 to 12 calls a day'

But this hasn’t stopped social media platforms from lighting up with concerned posters, particularly in response to people asking for advice on how to deal with their isolated infestation with home remedies. 

Pest control expert and biologist Arnold Sciberras said that currently, his company is going on “10 to 12 calls a day” related to bed bugs, a dramatic increase from the one to two cases a day they would deal with before summer. 

Sciberras says that Malta typically sees outbreaks of the common bed bug, Cimex lectularius, known as il-baqqa in Maltese. 

He thinks the increase in reported cases can mostly be attributed to tourism.  

“Since 2017, bedbugs have become quite a major crisis,” he said. 

“I hypothesise that it’s caused by many foreigners coming from infected countries such as the UK, France and Poland.

“These organisms are carried involuntarily on their hosts from the infected countries. In fact, during Covid times the species decreased again only to rise slowly in 2022 and at a faster pace recently.”

Are bed bugs harmful?

Bed bugs feed on human blood and their bites can result in several adverse health effects, including skin rashes, psychological effects and allergic reactions.

Bites may also lead to skin changes ranging from barely visible to prominent blisters, with symptoms taking between minutes and days to appear after being bitten. 

Itchiness is common, while some may experience fatigue or a fever.

Bed bugs are not known to transmit infectious diseases. 

“They spread by crawling to nearby locations or by being carried within personal items,” Sciberras said.

“Bedbugs spend much of their time in dark, hidden locations, like mattress seams or cracks in the wall.”

How do you get rid of bed bugs? 

Sciberras says expelling them from your home can prove challenging, particularly as the creepy crawlies can survive up to 500 days without feeding. 

“Repeated treatments of a room may be required, and these treatments may include heating the room for more than 90 minutes, frequent vacuuming, washing clothing at high temperatures, and the use of various pesticides only carried out by professionals,” he said.

“The best way of avoiding getting bedbugs in your house is to avoid getting second-hand furniture, and avoid keeping foreign baggage overnight.” 

The EHD also said it primarily deals with bed bug outbreaks in three steps:

  1. identifying the source and extent of the infestation
  2. taking the necessary steps to treat the pest with the use of pesticides or heat treatment
  3. following up with the case to ensure the infestation has been successfully eradicated. 

To avoid a bed bug infestation, the Health Authorities have recommended the following preventive measures: 

  • Inspect rooms carefully for signs of bed bugs 
  • Wash all clothes and luggage after returning from travel 
  • Vacuum regularly with cleaners equipped with HEPA filters 
  • Seal cracks in the home where bed bugs could hide 
  • Stay vigilant for signs of infestation such as bites, live or dead bugs, eggs or faecal spots. 

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