Despite reports of bed bug infestations at a number of public buildings, the Ministry of Health is reassuring Barbadians the smelly bloodsuckers do not pose a public health risk.
“Bed bugs are not vectors like rodents or mosquitos,” said Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Kenneth George.
“Their bites can cause irritation or redness on the skin or a rash around the site. Other than that, there are no known diseases transmitted by bed bugs or bed mites. So although we understand it is a public concern, it is not a public health problem.”
Recent sightings of bedbugs have been at District ‘A’ holding cells at Station Hill, the Fairchild Street Bus Terminal and the E Humphrey Walcott Building in Lower Collymore.
But the acting chief medical officer ruled out building closures for treatment against bed bugs, and called on property owners in both the private and public sector to stick to a regular and consistent cleaning schedule.
“The Ministry of Health has been trying to get a handle on the problem and we have reported 74 infestations between 2017 and 2018,” Dr George said.
There was an overall increase in bed bug sightings worldwide, and owing to their nature, it was easy to “pick them up”, he said.
“Bed bugs tend to live in crevices around people’s homes, or in hotel rooms, where people are constantly moving in and out. They do not jump or fly, but they attach themselves to people’s clothing and move from place to place.”
The Ministry said its “proactive approach” to fighting the pests involved using “environmentally friendly chemicals” but urges households to prevent them by “keeping your surroundings clean”.
Chief Environmental Health Officer Francina Bascombe outlined what people should look for if they suspected a bed bug problem.
“The same way you would see termite trails, you will see black marks along the crevices in your home or any other place where they are present. Any bites on your skin would be in a line rather than circular. Bed bugs are flat disc-shaped creatures which expand after their blood meal, and they are active mostly at night.”
“If you see evidence of the bugs in your mattress, just putting it out in the sun can get rid of them too, but it is important you treat the whole area including the headboard and the room itself. Bed bugs can live for between six months to four years, and can go for six months without a blood meal.
“When it comes to treatment, the Ministry as well as professional exterminators can guide you on which chemicals to use so you do not get a [recurrence],” Bascombe added.