Bed bugs – a painful, sleepless nightmare

IT had been a sleepless, living nightmare.

For mStar editor Zainal Azhar Mohamed, it was a year-long battle with bed bugs that ended with him “surrendering” and moving his family out of the rented home.

He believes the ordeal began after his travels in Vietnam last year.

“I think there were bed bugs at the hotel. I got itchy bites while I was there,” he recalls.

He went to three doctors. They told him that it could be mosquito bites or an allergic reaction. They gave him medication that stopped the itchiness. Yet, he kept getting bitten.

“It was only around May last year when my part-time Indonesian maid noticed that there was a musty smell – a tell-tale sign of the presence of bed bugs,” he says.

Zainal Azhar checked his bed and noticed black marks on his mattress, a sign of bed bug fecal matter.

He recalls feeling helpless after having “tried everything” and failed.

“All the sprays and pesticides were ineffective. I mixed Clorox with hot water and sprayed it all over my house, I used natural remedies such as soursop leaves and soursop fruits, but it all did not work.”

“I would also mop, clean and vacuum every day. I tried everything,” he says.

His children suffered, too. “My babies kept crying at night from the bites.”

“Even I could not sleep. And when I did fall asleep, I would have nightmares about them,” he says.

Zainal Azhar says the infestation was so severe that he could see the bed bugs in the crevices of the wall sockets in the room. He called a pest control company, which quoted him RM1,200 for one room but could not guarantee that they will be exterminated.

“I was told that they can guarantee results for mosquito, ant and rat infestations but not for bed bugs,” he says.

After months of sleepless nights, Zainal Azhar made the decision to move out.

“I threw away all the beds and bought new ones. I sent all my clothes and carpets to the laundromat to get washed in hot water,” he says.

Zainal Azhar’s younger brother Zainal Abidin is another victim.

“When I moved into my rented room, I realised that I started getting really itchy bites,” Zainal Abidin says.

It dawned on Zainal Abidin that he might have the same infestation as his brother.

“Sure enough, when I had a closer look, I found bed bugs on the mattress and in the grout between the tiled floor.”

Zainal Abidin and his housemates swung to action. They filled the grout with concrete, got rid of all the mattresses, and washed all the carpets and curtains.

“Thankfully, it seems to have worked.”

Star Media Group digital content manager Lim Cheng Hoe says his agony began when he started sleeping on a futon on the floor to help ease his backache.

He started getting itchy welts and spotted bugs that looked like “watermelon seeds”.

“I would go to bed about midnight and two hours later, wake up itchy,” he says. “Then it was search and destroy. I had to pick them off one by one otherwise I wouldn’t get any sleep.”

It got to a point where he dreaded going to bed.

“Over-the-counter pest killers won’t get rid of bed bugs. I Googled home remedies; but they tell you that salt, baking soda and whatnot doesn’t work,” he says.

He even tried using a steam iron to kill the bugs, plotting a “scalding death” for them. “But the nozzle wasn’t really suitable for the job.” Using bed bug sprays was another exercise in futility.

“They still feasted on me, night after night,” he says.

He ended up “sterilising the bed” by emptying a few bottles of bed bug sprays on the bed frame and mattress.

Luckily, for the past three months, Lim says he has “been off the menu” for the bed bugs.

For copywriter Chan Ren Cheian, some of the bites became infected.

“Some of it became so swollen and full of pus. It was so bad that it was throbbing with pain. The doctor had to prick it to dig all the pus out,” said Chan.

At the peak of the infestation in 2015, Chan says he had around 30 bites all over his body.

“The itch really drives you crazy.”

Chan says that the thought of getting bitten by the bed bugs made him paranoid.

“I could not sleep for months. I would wake up in the middle of the night to inspect my body for new bites,” he says.

Chan sprayed his room with insect spray and threw his mattress away. The problem went away for a few months but it recently came back; luckily, it was not as bad as before.

Another victim, L. Sasha, says she came to know of the problem after sleeping on an old bed in a rented room.

“I had trouble sleeping. I felt things moving on my bed but I didn’t feel any bites,” she says.

When she inspected her bed, she says she saw about 20 bed bugs at one corner, “It was so gross!”

She disposed of the mattress but the problem did not end there despite her vacumming every day and buying bed bug pesticide.

Sasha says she could not stop thinking about it and became obsessed with checking her room for the pesky bugs.

“Whenever I felt something move on my bed, I would get up to check. I would wake up and check my bed every two hours, I would not sleep,” she says.

“I even vacuumed my room in the middle of the night. It was just horrible.”

Sasha said that she would also observe the floor. “Whenever I see a black speck, I would panic. Sometimes, it would just be a speck of dirt,” she says, adding that this took a toll on her mentally.

“I found that even though I did not get any bites, they were still feeding from me. Because when I kill them, there would be blood. It was creepy,” she said.

After months of suffering, Sasha finally decided to move out. She washed all her clothes in hot water and hung them in the sun.

“I do not want the bed bugs to follow me to my new place.”


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