ABU DHABI // A private war is being waged in bedrooms across the nation - and the bedbugs appear to be winning it.
Efforts to tackle the bedbug problem have largely failed as the bloodsucking insects are becoming increasingly resistant to the chemicals used to kill them.
After the tragic deaths last year of two five-month-old children whose neighbour's house in Ajman had been sprayed with pesticides, the Ministry of Environment and Water introduced controls on chemicals available to pest control companies.
But the chemicals still in use are no longer very effective, says Dinesh R, the operations manager of National Pest Control.
"The bedbugs are getting genetically adapted and resistant to the pesticides we're using," Mr Dinesh says.
To try to slow this process, National Pest Control changes the chemicals it uses every month. But that approach has had little effect and still fails to affect the creatures' eggs.
The chemicals kill young bugs and adults but the eggs have a waxy coating that can be penetrated only by gas - making the company's water-based chemicals all but useless. And one egg can start an infestation.
The problem becomes worse in summer when the heat and humidity allow the bugs to be more active.
"We are treating three jobs for bedbug infestations a day, which is still a lot," says Mr Dinesh.
They breed prolifically and though they can live for 18 months without it, they feed every five to 10 days.
Experts say the infestations have risen dramatically almost all over the world in the past decade, as the result of the creatures' increasing resistance and the growth in foreign travel.
Another company, Invaders Pest Control, deals with an average of four cases a day in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, unchanged from a year ago.
"It's pretty bad," says B Pereira, the operations manager of Invaders Pest Control. "The bugs are mostly found in hotel rooms, brought in by travellers."
Pest controllers have tried to move away from traditional fumigation treatments, where an entire room would be sprayed. Instead, they target specific areas.
"We use a spray treatment with non-toxic chemicals areas because it usually occurs only on mattresses or corners of beds," says Mr Pereira.
But even that proved fruitless.
"The strongest pesticides we've used are now banned because the chemicals have the potential to harm humans and the environment," says Mr Dinesh.
Many hotels regularly spray whole rooms, which housekeeping staff say is very effective.
"We have a pest control treatment once a month," says Cynthia Requino, the assistant housekeeping manager at the Beach Rotana Hotel in Abu Dhabi. "We get bedbug infestations maybe once or twice a year … we notice it straight away because we check our mattresses daily."
Last year, National Pest Control developed a non-toxic method to freeze the bug. But there were problems.
"The system blows carbon dioxide which forms ice crystals at minus 5°C, but the problem was the pressure at which it was blown," says Mr Dinesh. "When it came in contact with the bug, it would blow it away instead of freezing it."
Manufacturers are working on lowering the pressure.
National Pest Control has been researching other non-toxic methods and plans to import a new system from the US next month.
Chemical treatments usually require a minimum of three visits to wipe out the insects.
"It's a one-time treatment, which takes an average of three hours to eliminate the bugs," says Mr Dinesh.
The method is widely used in Australia, Europe and the US. National Pest Control says it has a 98 per cent success rate, compared with 80 per cent for previous techniques.
"It really is the most practical method," says Mr Dinesh, who is unwilling to give details of the treatment.
But it should be less demanding than current techniques, which require residents to leave their house for four hours, wash their furniture and destroy anything that is infested.
"With the new technology, all this will be taken care of," he says. "People can stand just outside the door."
Although further testing is required, he believes it will eliminate all stages of bedbugs.