x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

For UAE's most problematic pests, prevention is better than the cure

Rentokil's James Nicholson on the problem with pesticides, the UAE's most problematic pests and why, when it comes to creepy crawlies, its better to be proactive than reactive.

Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National
Illustration by Sarah Lazarovic for The National

If you come across the odd pest in your home - that lone cockroach lurking on your kitchen counter, for example - you can be sure of one thing. That's not an isolated incident. Somewhere, just outside of your line of sight, there are plenty more.

"When you see a problem, you're not seeing the whole problem," warns James Nicholson, UAE general manager of the pest control company Rentokil. "Because, actually, the pest views you as a threat and doesn't want to be seen. If you see the odd cockroach running around, you can be pretty sure that behind the scenes there are quite a few more."

Pest control is probably not something you think about much. Not until there's an immediate and obvious problem, anyway. But by then it's probably too late - you may already have colonies of creepy crawlies languishing under your cupboards or behind the skirting board.

To this effect, Rentokil, which was formed more than 80 years ago in the UK, currently operates in more than 60 countries worldwide and established a presence in the UAE last year, recommends a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to pest control.

Instead of waiting until there's a full-blown problem and then calling someone in to douse your place in pesticide, the company will help you to make basic changes to your property that will prevent a serious problem from developing in the first place.

"We will try to look at changing the environment of a property. Can you do some housekeeping in the garden? Can you trim back some hedges and bushes? Can you tidy up the leaves so there aren't areas where things can hide? You have a lot of physical controls where people can adapt their property to help prevent pests from getting inside: bristle strips on the base of doors, self-closing door devices, fly screens and things like that," says Nicholson.

"And then, once you've done all of that, if you're still having issues, that's when pesticide would be applied. The challenge is that the way pest control is done here at the moment is perhaps slightly more old fashioned. The attitude is, if the pest control technician hasn't sprayed an area, then it hasn't been treated.

"In our more established markets, like the US, Europe, Australia and the UK, pesticide application is more of a last resort. There is a big drive towards using snap traps, glue boards, insect monitoring points and those environmental and physical recommendations. That's good for the environment. And it means that when you do actually apply pesticide, it is more effective because the pest hasn't become resilient to it."

The UAE is home to a number of potential pests. "In areas where the climate is warm, you see a lot of flying insects," says Nicholson. "Flies and mosquitoes and things like that all tend to breed at their optimum rate at around 25°C to 30°C and, for a large part of the year, we are in that temperature bracket," he explains.

Many of the UAE's larger residential developments are also home to lakes and lush vegetation, which provide ample nesting grounds for everything from mosquitoes to rodents. "Rodents are a big issue here," Nicholson says. "Typically, the more construction you have, the bigger the rodent infestation, because when things are begin built, health management and hygiene of the environment can be a bit substandard.

"Rodents have incisors that grow continuously, so they constantly have to gnaw and chew things. So sometimes in new builds you will find that rats have gnawed through electrical cabling, potentially causing fires and things like that. You don't want a rodent chewing through your AC wiring in the middle of the summer."

Bed bugs are another problem area. They are notoriously difficult to control because, given the right environment, they breed extremely rapidly and, even in the wrong environment, are capable of surviving for extended periods of time.

"One of the things that makes it more likely to happen here is, because it is quite an affluent society, a lot of people have maids or someone that comes in and cleans and often these individuals will live in communal living. There might be a lot of people living in one room, hygiene might be a little bit difficult and, when you have a huge variety of environments coming in to one place, it creates a melting pot. If one person out of six picks up a bed bug, it can transfer very quickly to the other five; they go and do their day's work and all of a sudden, those six sites now have a bed bug problem. And it goes on and on. That's a big challenge."

In response, Rentokil has introduced a new heat treatment to the market, which involves warming the affected room up to around 60°C. This ensures that all bed bugs in the vicinity will die of dehydration within a couple of hours. Notably, the problem is solved in a single session, whereas when using pesticide, multiple applications are required to ensure that all bugs and their unhatched eggs are effectively eradicated.

"At the moment, none of our competitors offer this. It's a technology that we have brought over from Europe and the US, where it is widespread. A lot of hotels in Europe will only use heat treatment. Again, it's one of those things that is a new technology for the local market but, when people do get used to it and realise the benefits and the potential downsides of going down the normal chemical route, it will really take off."

While bed bugs, cockroaches and rats will be on most homeowners' radars as things to avoid and eradicate, there is a greater threat that is perhaps not as well known.

"Probably one of the things that is least spoken about and is potentially one of the most dangerous things is pigeons. The spores that come off the faeces of pigeons, if inhaled, can cause untold issues with your respiratory system. And you will often find that you'll have pigeons sitting and resting on intake fans for ACs, so that's going all the way through your AC system and into your environment," says Nicholson.

Of course, there are plenty of things that you can do to minimise the possibility of having pests in your home. Good hygiene and effective housekeeping are your first line of defence.

"If you don't provide a pest with a food source or a water source, then it's not going to be able to survive. Everyone is guilty of it - where you don't really want to clean under that surface or that cupboard - but it's really about doing a spring clean on a regular basis. And make sure to maintain your home properly, so if there are cracks in your skirting board, have those sealed with silicone. A lot of this stuff a customer can do on their own and it won't cost them much."

Washing bed linen on a regular basis at the right temperature (60 degrees and above) is also key. This will kill any egg sacks that may be attached to your sheets. Make sure to hoover regularly - don't forget your mattress - and then dispose of your hoover bag straight away. There's no point leaving it on the sitting room floor where bugs can crawl straight out and be on their merry way. "Bag it and bin it," says Nicholson.

Also keep an eye out for telltale signs. "In villas, you can always have a look around the garden to see if there are small holes where rodents may have burrowed. Or you'll often see grease marks where there's a rodent runway, where a rodent has been running up and down for a long period of time. With cockroaches, you'll see little clusters of black specks."

The good news, says Nicholson, is "there's nothing that's not controllable". But the earlier you address a pest problem, the better off you'll be. And you may even be able to avoid that encounter with that lone cockroach altogether.



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