New Zealand is in the midst of a bed bug epidemic, according to Ray Jacob.

The Metro Pest founder has been in the pest control industry for over ten years and has seen his fair share of bed bug infestations. “I could name half a dozen apartment buildings in Auckland city centre that have incredible levels of infestation,” said Jacobs. “I wouldn’t want to live in one because, essentially, it’s going to cause a problem for these people that keep their apartments spick and span.”

Bed bugs are relatively new to New Zealand, and as such the general public is underinformed about the problems they pose. “Going back more than ten years, we literally never had them in New Zealand. Many of the hotels we deal with don’t understand how these creatures work, and won’t spend the money to get the problem solved.”

The problem was exacerbated by the government’s decision to regulate the pest control industry, said Jacobs. “We applied to the government for the same standards of licensing as Australia for pest controllers, and instead they withdrew the qualification we had and said, as long as you’re trained, you can do the job. There’s no enforcement, so there’s no way to know if your pest controller knows what they’re doing.”

An untreated bed bug infestation can lead to bites, but bad reviews aren’t the worst that can happen: the bug’s bloodsucking habit means it can spread bloodborne diseases like hepatitis B and viral haemorrhagic fever.  “The problem is you can’t really prevent them,” said Jacob. “Bed bugs don’t just live in beds – they’ll live in carpets, behind pictures, anywhere dark. So, you could spend thousands of dollars on a bug-proof mattress and still get bed bugs.”

The secret, Jacob argued, is responding to the problem as and when it occurs, and quickly. He recommended an overnight heat treatment that kills bed bugs and eggs by exposing them to temperatures over 50°C, which he claimed had demonstrated a 100 percent efficiency rating at eliminating bed bugs.

Chemical treatments and freeze treatments are an option, but the canny insects are fighting back. Bed bugs in New York were recently found that had developed an immunity to common pesticides, making eradication of the pests a more taxing task that demands professional equipment.

But whatever route you choose to take, the important thing is to stay on top of the problem before it gets out of hand. “At the end of the day, this is all a health issue. Insects that feed on human blood have the potential to pass on infectious diseases, so it’s crucial to stay informed and prevent an infestation from spreading.”