x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Prevent pests, don't poison your house

The danger of combating insects with pesticides should not be underestimated.

Nobody likes the thought of creepy crawlies scuttling over their skin - and in their ears, across their eyes, skimming the edges of their open mouths - while they sleep.

While the UAE does not have the frightening range of insects of, say, Australia or parts of Africa, the ones we do have can be enough to disrupt daily life. Cockroaches, fleas and bedbugs are all unpleasant to encounter, and may carry disease.

Yet the danger of combating these insects with pesticides should not be underestimated. The National has reported on several severe reactions linked to pesticides in recent months: last month, 10 people were admitted to hospital after a banned pesticide was used in their neighbour's apartment. At the end of last year, there was the tragic case of two young brothers who died because of the actions of a fumigation company. Their sister survived.

There is, obviously, a danger in using banned chemicals: authorities have repeatedly warned that illegal pesticide tablets can have disproportionate effects on people and the environment.

But the problem goes beyond banned chemicals. Even approved pesticides sold in the shops can cause adverse effects if not used carefully; using them excessively and repeatedly can expose people and pets to harmful chemicals. It is easy to use them to excess, forgetting that the fumes and dust from these products do cause some harm, if not, when used correctly, at dangerous levels.

Another problem is illustrated by the current problem of bedbugs across the country. Repeated use of chemicals have made the bugs immune. Bedbugs have adapted and the pesticides now in use are only minimally effective at killing them. As with some strains of malaria, organisms eventually evolve resistance and new chemicals or medications need to be created, but that takes time.

The answer is prevention. Not all insect infestations are a consequence of unsanitary homes, but even small areas left unclean can attract unfriendly guests. Luggage, pets and clothes can all transport these pests from the outdoors into the home, and warm, wet corners provide ideal space for vermin such as cockroaches. Regular cleaning and inspecting should mean most people can avoid the need for potentially harmful, toxic solutions.