Bed bug infestations in London have increased by as much as 1,500 per cent in some areas, council figures have shown.
Beds Bugs Limited, a pest company which collected figures from 22 London councils, warned that the capital could be returning to 1930s conditions if the bugs continued to spread at the current rate.
In the 1930s one in three homes suffered from a bed bug infestation, the firm said.
Freedom of Information requests sent out by the company showed that reported bed bug infestations rose from less than 1,000 cases in 2003 to more than 3,000 in 2007.
“There is a growth of between 300 per cent and 1,500 per cent in some parts of London,” said David Cain of Bed Bugs Limited.
“If we don’t grasp the extent of this problem today then it will only be a matter of time before we get back to 1930s levels of one third of all London dwellings being infested with bed bugs.”
The worst affected post code areas are W5 (Ealing), W11 (Notting Hill), SW5 (Earl's Court), E6 (Newham), E7 (Forest Gate) and E12 (Wanstead), followed by - among others - TW9 (Kew), CR0 (Croydon) and SE5 (Streatham).
Bed bugs feed on human blood, usually just before dawn. Contrary to popular belief, the occurrence of bed bugs does not mean a home is dirty – they are attracted by body heat, not filth.
David New, also of Bed Bugs Limited, said the firm had some difficulty in collating the data because councils had different ways of recording the bed bug incidents.
However, the results showed an alarming increase of the bugs.
One of the main problems is that no one wants to talk about the problem because of the stigma attached to it.
Last year, the Guardian spoke to single mum Pauline Chase, from New Addington, who called out exterminators four times to deal with a bed-bug invasion.
The 32-year-old mum of five was told to throw out all her new furniture, children's clothes and toys after an army of the critters invaded her house last February.
She and her daughters, the youngest of whom was only three months old, were forced to sleep on the floor in their front room after an exterminator failed to get rid of them despite being called out four times.
She moved out of her home six months later.
Mr Cain said depending on the severity of the infestation, the problem is fairly easy to treat but needs to be done thoroughly.
He said a lot of pest exterminators do not know how to do it properly, throwing chemicals and aerosols into the room which does not kill the bugs hiding in nooks and crannies in the bed frame.
He said throwing out clothes and furniture was not necessary as it is possible to decontaminate these.