Bed bugs aren’t a health hazard according to Toronto Public Health, but victims of the little bloodsuckers can suffer from physical reactions and psychological stress long after the battle is over.
Toronto resident Irene Hart has experience fighting the pests. In 2007, she discovered itchy, red welts covering her back and torso. Unbeknownst to her, bed bugs were feasting upon her like tiny vampires while she slept.
After several months – and specialist appointments with dermatologists to determine the cause of the mysterious rash – Hart found similar stories posted on the Internet. One Google search – in the middle of the night – pointed her to other victims. Armed with photos of the bugs, Hart began a frantic search of her bedding to find proof of an infestation.
“They weren’t inside my bed,” Hart said. “They were in the walls and under the baseboards; in the cracks in the hardwood floors.”
Hart discovered that the name, bed bugs, is inaccurate. The bugs will live in bedding and in the seams of mattresses or the wood of box springs. But oftentimes little evidence is found on a person’s bed.
Bed bugs are excellent at hiding, and do so frequently in crevices and cracks of hardwood floors, bedroom furniture and even electrical outlets.
People assume that by laundering their bedding or discarding their mattress the problem is solved. James Baker is the building manager for a downtown Toronto high-rise apartment building. He claims that tenants either react strongly to the news of an infestation, or don’t react at all.
“Some people panic immediately,” he said, “and others just sort of shrug it off like it’s no big deal. Until they start getting bit.”
For Baker, one of the biggest challenges is the amount of work that is required from tenants when an apartment is being treated. To eradicate the pests, tenants must follow instructions – including washing, drying and sealing their belongings in Ziploc bags.
This can be costly, requires a large commitment of time and has to be maintained for several weeks until the last of the eggs has hatched. If the tenant can’t, or won’t, do their part in the process the treatments aren’t effective. Baker runs one of the few buildings in Toronto that currently has no bed bugs.
“It’s not easy to keep up with,” he said. “All it takes is one person to bring home a coffee table they buy on Craigslist and we have to start all over again.”
To help ease the burden on lower-income families, the city of Toronto has announced one-time funding of $75,000 to assist with the expenses.
In addition, Bug and Scrub will provide instructions and assistance with labour for people with physical challenges to overcome. The city’s anticipated Bed Bug Project report, due last month, is expected to provide more community resources to battle the bugs.
In the meantime, two years after her infestation was treated, Hart continues to check her bedding daily for signs of bed bug activity.
She moved to a new apartment last year and was careful not to take any bugs with her. After searching for her new apartment building on the internet – at myhood.ca and bedbugregistry.com – she found a bug-free unit in Baker’s building.
“Every baseboard is sealed with silicone,” Hart said. “It’s been two years, but the experience and paranoia stays with you for a lifetime.”
Filed by Lara Willis