Bedbug rise a 'public health issue' for Scotland

Image caption,
The insects are flat, rusty brown in colour and about 5mm long

Health experts have warned a rise in bedbug infestations in Scotland is becoming a "major public health issue".

The claim by the Royal Environmental Health Institute for Scotland (REHIS) comes as US experts said the world was on the verge of a "global pandemic".

A pest control firm said it had seen a rise, due to more people travelling abroad and bringing the insects back.

It said people should look out for an "almond smell" and red spots on bedclothes as signs of infestation.

John McNeice, from the Fife-based Scottish Pest Control Services, which has contracts with councils and firms including Scottish Power and BP, said he had seen about a 20% increase in bed bug business over the past two years.

Most of the work was in B&Bs, hotels and domestic properties, he said.

REHIS said it only had anecdotal reports of a rise, and called for improvements in how data is collected and shared in the UK so that trends can be properly monitored.

It has organised a conference in Glasgow, where experts are debating how to deal with the problem.

Pat Hoey, chair of the REHIS public health and housing working group, said: "It's anecdotal evidence at the moment.

"Different local authorities are reporting an increase, usually in densely populated areas, although it's sporadic in other places."

He said Glasgow and Edinburgh had a worse problem than Dundee and Aberdeen.

Mr Hoey agreed with the pest control firm's assessment that the increase was down to travel.

"People are travelling further afield and these insects can live in luggage and be brought back," he said.

"Precautions should be taken, such as making sure everything is thoroughly shaken out before you return home.

"Bedbugs are very hard to get rid of, and can migrate rooms very easily.

"People aren't dealing with them properly - that's why it's a growing problem."

Mr McNeice said the majority of his clients are in the B&B and hotel trade, as well as domestic properties.

Image caption,
Bedbugs can cause a nasty-looking rash when they bite

He said when he walks into a infested room, he can smell the insects, which are rusty brown in colour and about 5mm long.

"If you look at the headboard you can usually see them there, because they hone in on your CO2," he added.

"And you often see red spots on the sheets, where people have been bitten."

He said an infestation was no signifier of a lack of hygiene and believes there is now less stigma attached to reporting a problem with bedbugs.

REHIS said it had also received reports of a rise in cockroach infestations, although, again, there are no official figures for Scotland.

Mr Hoey said it was a problem in some buildings occupied by multiple residents.

"We need everyone in a building to deal with cockroaches at same time and that isn't happening," he said.

He said the Scottish government last year brought in more powers for environmental protection officers to gain access to any building that may be infested.

However Mr McNeice said his firm had not noticed an increase in cockroaches, in the same way as there has been with bedbugs.

The issue came to prominence in the US last year, when the country's Environmental Protection Agency warned of an "alarming resurgence" in bedbugs.

New York was the worst affected city with office buildings, cinemas and shops - including the flagship Nike store in Manhattan and the BBC's studios at the United Nations - being forced to deal with infestations.

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