With multiple long hairy legs, ready to scavenge for food around your home or bite into your flesh, bugs that go bump in the night bring about more than just discomfort and disgust - they pose a health threat to you and your family, too.
Bed bugs, fleas, cockroaches, mosquitoes and house flies - are just some of the household pests that expert entomologist Jaco Scheepers said could leave a trail of illness in their wake.
And chances are you won’t even notice them until the infestation becomes a big problem. Attracted to your body heat and Co² emissions, bed bugs can cover more than 8m in a room, hiding in areas other than the bed, like the ceiling.
“An adult bed bug can go up to a year without feeding, which also makes them easy to overlook... there have been unconfirmed claims that they transmit Hepatitis, which is a big concern. But what we are sure of is that people can get bad infections from them because they defecate on you while they feed on you,” Scheepers said.
Added to the infection, bed bugs cause extreme discomfort and trouble sleeping.
“I’ve seen people become mentally unwell because of the trauma of having had an infestation. They become paranoid and cannot sleep because they believe something is eating into them even when the issue has been long cleared,” he explained.
Bed bugs usually visit their host for a blood feed just before dawn. When alarmed they move quickly and emit an odour - and can lay up to 500 eggs over a two-month period in batches of 10 to 50.
The worst-hit places with bed bugs are back packer lodges which see an influx of tourists coming in and out in short time frames.
According to Rentokil - a pest removal company - some of the signs your home may have these bugs are:
Dark/black stains - on the mattress and surrounding area, from bed bug excreta.
* Sweet scent - an unpleasant, sweet, sickly scent.
* Small dark spots - small dark blood spots on bedding known as "faecal pellets".
* Live insects - despite being small (adults are only 4-5mm long) it’s possible to spot live bed bugs and shed skins.
* Blood spots - on the sheets or mattress.
Another long-legged walking health hazard is cockroaches.
Scheepers said these creatures love warm spots, and will feed on any- and everything. Exposure to this insect could put you at risk of salmonella, dysentery and gastroenteritis.
“They can also aggravate symptoms of asthma in children as they shed their skin, which becomes a powdery drop. Unlike bed bugs, they can cause a variety of diseases because they walk on all sorts of dirty surfaces,” Scheepers continued.
He added that while cockroaches were mostly nocturnal, if you find one walking about during the day, it may be a sign you have a bigger problem.
What you need to look out for: cockroach droppings - cockroaches leave a dust of black droppings less than 1mm wide and of varying lengths.
Smear marks - check for marks on horizontal surfaces and at wall-floor junctions where cockroaches are active. If water is abundant cockroaches will produce brown and irregular shaped smear marks.
Shed skin - look for this evidence in locations you suspect they are sheltering. Cockroaches shed "cast nymphal" skins 5-8 times as they mature to adults.
Added to the list of creepy creatures, Scheepers said people needed to be wary of fleas and mosquitos, too.
“Mosquitos are the biggest health threat because they spread malaria and dengue fever, and the likes. While these aren’t really common in South Africa, malaria is one of the biggest killers in the world. They, too, have ways of detecting location through body heat and Co² emissions,” he said.
Fleas and rats are other culprits that can bring about disease in your home.
“If you have a house that has rats, when fleas come off the rats and start feeding on people they can spread disease.”
Scheepers said that the first rule of thumb in protecting your home against pests was to keep it clean.
He advised: “One of the key things in restricting insects is making your home less attractive to them by keeping it clean. Also, if you have a clean home you can spot the signs of potential invasions quicker. Also clean out your gutters and areas with stagnant water because those are areas where mosquitoes breed. Take your clothes in for regular dry cleaning and get in a professional to give your house some residual spray,” he said.