Don’t let the bedbugs bite

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With bedbug infestations on the rise, features editor Kiera Toffelmire investigates why students are considered one of the most at-risk groups to be visited by the blood-sucking bad boys


Sarah cleans her apartment more than 15 times a week. She dusts, sweeps, sprays, scrubs and vacuums the contents of her new two-bedroom apartment in Toronto’s west end with more force and vigor than a category five hurricane. While cleaning, the fourth-year business management student stops only to take a quick sip of water before returning to her merciless pursuit of maintaining a bedbug free environment.

Sarah’s excessive cleaning habits developed after dealing with a bedbug infestation in her previous apartment that forced her to find a new place to live, fork over $400 for laundering services, and deal with the paranoia that accompanies a bad encounter with the blood-sucking bugs that are creeping their way across the city.

According to the New York Times, Google searches for “bedbugs” have shot up 80 per cent since last year, and in the past four weeks bedbug related searches have jumped 182 per cent. While bedbugs have been an ongoing issue for decades, the Public Health Agency of Canada says that reports from the pest control industry and the hotel and housing organizations suggest that bedbug infestations have increased dramatically over the past couple of years.

Students are one of the most at-risk groups for bedbug infestations, according to Ontario Liberal MPP Michael Colle.

“Students are very mobile. Often they can’t afford to live in expensive accommodations so they take run-down places that are not the best in terms of hygiene and are often where bedbugs can be,” says Colle.

“Students need to take the proper precautions because they are very vulnerable right now.”

While municipal public health units have yet to discover any long-term health effects of bedbugs, Colle believes there has not been substantial investigation into health issues associated with prolonged exposure to these bugs.

“Bedbugs have caused some serious mental anguish and anxiety amongst people who have had infestations. To me that’s a pretty serious health issue,” argues Colle.

For Sarah, bedbugs triggered a bad case of paranoia that seeps into all aspects of her life and makes it harder to have peaceful sleeps.

“I felt disgusting, waking up with new bites and not knowing where the hell they were coming from,” says Sarah, who called her landlord immediately after discovering telltale signs of bedbugs, like black spots on her box spring and mattress.

Under Toronto’s Residential Tenancy Act, all rented properties must be kept free of pests and from conditions that may encourage pest infestations. If a rented space is infested by bedbugs, the landlord is required to comply with these health and safety standards and pay for extermination, which can cost more than $900 depending on the size of the infested areas. However, in some cases the landlord may try and put the blame on the tenant in which case he or she would have to take it to court. While Sarah’s landlord paid for in-house extermination, he refused to pay for the laundering of her clothes, which cost her $400.

Toronto exterminator Nagu Antony Sraj said for the past two months his company, Toronto Bed Bugs, has been swamped with calls of infestations.

“Every bedbug extermination company in the city has probably been crazy busy the past couple months,” said Sraj, who offers students a discounted price of $250 for a full extermination. This includes hot steam to kill the eggs, a spray treatment for all cracks and crevices, and the application of a powdered chemical to prevent future infestations. Depending on the size of the house, the process can take up to two hours.

According to Sraj, about one-third of people bitten by bedbugs do not react to bites and so the infestation spreads. An adult female bedbug can lay up to five eggs a day, a daunting number considering they feed on human blood.

Though they are less intimidating, blood-sucking bedbugs share a similar attack strategy with Freddy Krueger, preying upon victims during their most vulnerable state of being — while they sleep.

Bedbugs are sneaky. They most commonly enter homes through multidwelling units, luggage, and used furniture. And for many penny-pinching students, used furniture is the only kind of furniture they can afford.

Katelyn Mudry, a fourth-year graphic communications management student, has furnished her entire apartment with items found on the street — including the mattress she sleeps on. While Mudry’s furnishing choices have heightened her potential to attract bedbugs, she says free furniture is her only option.

“I understand the risk I’m taking but I don’t really have a choice. I’m picky about the furniture I actually decide to take home,” says Mudry, scratching her wrist. “I guess I’ve been lucky so far.”

While Mudry has luck on her side, thousands of Torontonians do not. Colle, is organizing a “Bed Bug Summit” to be held on Sept. 29 at Queen’s Park to raise awareness about prevention and eradication of bedbugs. “There’s never been a public campaign against bedbugs. Everyone keeps it quiet because there is a public stigmatism attached to the issue and they are ashamed to talk about it,” said Colle, “but we can conquer this issue.”

*Sarah’s last name was withheld for her privacy.

How to avoid bedbug infestations

1. Before moving into a new place, check out the online registry — www.bedbugregistry.com — to see if any bedbug infestations have previously happened at this location.

2. Thoroughly examine your house. Bedbugs — usually the shape and size of an apple seed — like to hide in cracks and crevices, behind the folds of curtains, chairs, couches and baseboards. Check your box spring and mattress for black spots that often resemble Sharpie stains.

3. If you have gone travelling, be sure to wash all your clothes immediately upon return. Particularly if you have stayed in hostels or hotels. The heat from dryers kill bedbugs, so pop in as many of your clothes as you can.

4. Try not to bring things into your home that you’ve found on the streets. If you do, be sure to investigate thoroughly for signs of bedbugs. It may also be a good idea to steam clean or spray the items regardless of if you have found signs of bedbugs on them.

5. If you notice small, red markings on your skin that resemble mosquito bites, do not hesitate to have a bedbug inspector visit. Bedbugs multiply fast.

6. Bedbugs can lie dormant for eight months, so before moving into a new place ask the former tenants and the neighbours if there have been bedbug issues in the past.

7. There are a number of bedbug and parasite sprays you can use on your furniture, rugs, carpets and clothing to prevent infestations. You can buy non-toxic sprays like Best Yet, an all-natural product that can be used to kill other insects too like fleas, ticks and mosquitoe

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