South Korea has set up a special team to crack down on bedbugs, amid a wave of infestations of the parasites.
Alarm has been growing since the first outbreak of the blood-sucking bugs was reported at a university in Daegu city in September. The hardy insects have since spread – as of Nov 5, at least 17 outbreaks have been reported across the capital Seoul and the cities of Busan and Incheon.
As jitters increase and people change their habits – avoiding cinemas, the subway and even saunas – health authorities and local governments have launched a renewed effort to once again wipe out bedbugs, which were eliminated following a nationwide disinfection campaign some 50 years ago.
In Seoul, 500 million won (£310,000) has been set aside and a response team set up to combat the insects, and the city government is scheduled to inspect more than 3,000 public facilities – including hotels and bathhouses – to assess their cleanliness, in an initiative dubbed the “zero-bedbug city project”.
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The city, which is home to around 9.4 million people, also plans to hot-steam the fabric on seats across the subway network, according to local media reports.
“We will enhance preemptive measures as bedbugs cause serious damage economically and psychologically,” said Park Yoo-mi, an official in charge of citizens’ health at the city government, according to the Korea Times.
Introducing new insecticides
Meanwhile the Korea Disease Control Agency is considering introducing new insecticides to tackle the bedbugs, which are notoriously difficult to exterminate, amid concerns the insects may have built up some resistance to the chemicals already in use.
Authorities have suggested that an increase of international travel after the pandemic may have brought bed bugs back to South Korea.
The outbreak in the East Asian country follows similar reports of a resurgence in France and the UK. While the creatures do not spread any diseases, their bites are itchy and the difficulty getting rid of the insects – which often lurk near beds or in crevices – causes significant emotional strain.
In Seoul, where people have reportedly been flocking to health services for checkups and advice, the public are already changing their habits.
“We used to see movies at reduced admission fees in the morning, because we open our academy in the afternoon,” Lim Myung-woo, a 37-year-old teacher, told the Korea Times. “But we decided to stop going to theatres for a while as we are worried about bedbug bites or carrying them to our workplace or home.”