When a friend told me, with horror, earlier this week that there was some chatter on a local media site about bed bugs infesting a couple of units in a major apartment complex it sounded like a major scoop! But I was wrong. In fact not only does Sault Ste. Marie have bed bugs but there has been a notable increase in bed bug infestations over the past two or three years.
Kara Flannigan is a public health inspector in the Environmental Health and Hazards department at the Algoma Public Health Unit. She wasn’t even phased when I asked her if she ever heard about bed bugs in the Sault.
“Oh we’ve had lots and lots of incidents of bed bugs in the community. It’s been growing for the last few years. I know locally that landlords and tenants have been dealing with it and housing agencies and social agencies have been dealing with it. I get an awful lot of phone calls. We’ve also contacted numerous furniture and moving companies to make them aware of removing furniture and infestation of their trucks and things.”
Flannigan isn’t the only person in town hearing about these unwelcome roommates.
Allan Mcbane is the owner of Bugland Pest Management and has been in the biz for about sixteen years. Mcbane operates one of just a few pest management outfits in the Sault.
“There’s been an increase in the last couple of years. Last year there was 26 bed bug calls between October and February and this year within that same time frame we’ve had 31 calls and we’re still getting them as we speak. Actually we just got a bed bug call a few minutes ago. It’s quite a bit compared to say five years ago where would maybe have 5 calls for the entire year. And seven years ago we might only receive about 2 calls about bed bugs for the entire year.”
While bedbugs are a year round pest given that their natural habitat is inside your home- especially your toasty and cozy bed, Mcbane has noticed that bed bug complaints are concentrated during specific months in the year.
“What we have found is that anywhere between October through to February we’ll see a greater volume of calls regarding bed bugs. That usually has to do with students returning from out of town to school and people travelling through the winter months. It seems that’s the time of the year that people are travelling the most and they’re bringing them back from hotels that they stayed in or from the plane. That would be when we see an explosion here.”
Adding to that Flannigan commented, “People bring them home from their travels- they can travel between residences, in purses, knapsacks, clothing and luggage. It’s something that we need to increase awareness of.”
In Southern Ontario bed bugs are becoming a nuisance for hoteliers. Mcbane advised, “People just have to be aware of their surroundings and take extra time if they’re renting a room. A five minute inspection goes a long way.”
Flannigan offered some pretty practical advice about how to prevent bringing bed bugs into the home- some good common sense advice like “don’t buy used mattresses” and “don’t bring home furniture that’s been left on a curb for the trash”. That seems pretty obvious but we all know people who have done it!
Flannigan and Mcbane agree that the most effective way to handle a bed bug infestation is early detection and quick intervention.
Pro Tip: If you find bed bugs in your bed –don’t change where you sleep. Those needy little b-b-b-b-bugs will follow you to the couch and the infestation will spread throughout your home.
Often a barrier to intervention and management of bed begs is the stigma associated with the pests. But bed bugs are a great equalizer! Bed bugs are not exclusive- they go after warm bodies regardless of one’s annual T4 slip or their personal hygiene preferences.
Detection can be a challenge. Not everybody physically reacts to bed bugs which means that the evidence of bites or welts are absent on the body. And knowing what to look for and where to look is important. Blood spots on sheets, bug poop, shed bug skin and the bugs can be indicators that you have bed bugs. Unless they are full of your blood, bed bugs are flat and can squeeze into tight spaces- the seams of your mattress, behind electrical outlets and between the pages of your bedtime book to name a few.
“If you’ve got bed bugs don’t panic, there’s lots that you can do,” Flannigan calmly advised. “You can control the problem with your vacuum cleaner and dryer. Unfortunately some people don’t have access to those control means and that poses a problem in and of itself. We also do have environmentally friendly and people and pet friendly bug spray that they can mix up themselves with stuff from the dollar store. However, the research has shown that unfortunately bed bugs are becoming tolerant to pesticides so you have to use a number of alternative efforts to bring the problem under control.”
But what do you do if you have an unmanageable bed bug infestation? Why call Mcbane of course!
“We use steam –it’s a key component of our services,” said Mcbane. “And a special dust in the wall voids and baseboards is another. And there’s also aerosols and liquids that are being used. When necessary, if it’s a very bad infestation throughout a multi-complex building, we’ve also brought up dogs from Southern Ontario that can detect bed bug activity. The dogs are 95% effective in finding bed bugs. It saves a lot of time and it allows us to bring it under control relatively quick.”
Both Flannigan and Mcbane agree that the preparation work to prepare a home for the treatment of bed bugs can be overwhelming. In particular for the elderly or for folks with limited capacity.
“There is a great deal of preparation that needs to be done for homes that are going to be treated,” remarked Flannigan. “It’s quite exhausting and physically challenging. Having friends or family to help you is really important. If the preparation of a unit isn’t done properly and meticulously, paying attention to details -then that effects the efficacy of the treatment. I’m not aware of any supports out there for people who need help with preparation. I would see that as a gap in service.”
Now that we’ve eliminated the use of DDT and toxic pesticides the physical health threat posed by bed bugs to humans is non-existent. However, bedding down each evening with hundreds of apple-seed-sized, parasitic, blood thirsty and UGLY bed bugs takes a psychological toll. In fact when I contacted a friend who had experienced a bed bug infestation he promptly ended the possibility of a discussion about it. “I can’t talk about it. I can’t even think about it,” he said and then immediately turned the conversation towards pastel coloured eggs and chocolate bunnies.”
The internet is flooded with helpful and terrifying information about bed bugs. For further details about identification and management check out APH’s website. If you need a gun for hire call Mcbane or check out his website.
*Interesting Fact: Mcbane has never brought a bed bug home! Not even one!