Patrons at Rex Cinema report being bitten and seeing bedbugs

SINGAPORE - It sounds like a scene from a horror movie. Patrons of the Rex Cinema claim they have been leaving with more than just shivers down their spine - after finding themselves covered in bedbugs.

The theatre in Mackenzie Road which shows Bollywood films has admitted to The Straits Times that it has a problem with the bugs - and pest controllers say it may not be the only cinema here to have them.

A group that watched a film at Rex on May 31 told how they began feeling uncomfortable during the two-hour showing.

Hairstylist Srirutiran Mathivanan, 29, said that as the movie was drawing to a close, his friend's wife began complaining that she felt itchy.

When he turned on his mobile phone's flashlight, he noticed that her hand was swollen - but that was not all.

"I saw many bedbugs at her feet and when I peeled the seat cushion back, even more came out," said Mr Mathivanan, who added that he had previously been bitten at the cinema.

His friend, Mr Narasinga Rao Vandasan, 26, felt the incident was "no small matter".

He said: "I sometimes see children going to the cinema. What if they get bitten? Cinemagoers don't want to spread this to their friends and family."

Mr Vandasan said the cinema's management had previously told him they would clean up the place but the situation has not improved. "I don't think I'll go back to the cinema again," he added.

Student Harini Vee, 20, who visits Rex Cinema once every two months, said: "The hygiene there is quite bad, especially during off-peak hours. It's not uncommon to see popcorn bits on the floor. But bedbugs sound quite extreme, I wouldn't have expected it."

Rex Cinema acknowledged the problem and told The Straits Times it plans to install new seats by the end of next month.

Spokesman Noor Jahan said: "We get about two complaints about bedbugs a week. However, we have procedures in place to deal with them. Pest control conducts regular (cleaning) every week and we go in and clean the place after every show.

"We also offer to change the seats of patrons who complain about bedbugs mid-show, or offer compensation for those who complain after the show. If (Mr Mathivanan) had come to us, we would have offered him the same treatment."

When contacted, other cinema operators said they have pest-control measures in place.

Shaw Theatres, for example, said all its cinemas are disinfected by specialists every month and no bedbug infestations have been reported.

Bedbug bites are manifested in rows of two or three bites - usually at the ankles or back of the neck. A female bedbug can lay up to 500 eggs in her lifespan of one year.

Mr John Ho, co-founder of Aardwolf Pestkare, recommends that cinemas be treated for bedbugs at least once a month. "Bedbugs are a continuous problem," he said.

"Once their eggs are laid, there can be an infestation within three months. Bedbugs do not transmit diseases, they are just a source of irritation."

timgoh@sph.com.sg