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Forget France. Canada has its own bedbug problem

Paris bedbug infestations may be making the headlines, but some Canadian cities have already been grappling with the pests. Here's what an expert recommends for those dealing with bedbug infestations.

As Paris bedbug infestations make headlines, Canadian cities grapple with their own pests

A small bug on a person's arm.

Bedbug infestations found in Paris during Fashion Week have prompted fears of travellers spreading the insects around, but exterminators in Canada say they're already enough of a problem here that people bringing them home from France isn't a concern.

Kurtis Brown, an entomologist with pest control company Orkin Canada, says the company deals with these invasive critters on a daily basis, so while they might be a concern for people travelling in Paris, "we have our own very high resident populations in our own cities and towns right now."

An annual Orkin Canada list of cities with the most bedbug infestations over the past year — based on the number of treatments the company performed — showed 15 out of the 25 cities were in Ontario.

Unsurprisingly, Toronto and Vancouver topped the list. Brown says the largest cities tend to have the biggest bedbug problems because there are more hosts in close proximity for the insects to move to.

Because bedbugs typically feed on humans, Brown says they're usually found wherever we tend to congregate and spend time, including apartment buildings, trains, planes, movie theatres and office buildings.

Calling a pest control company to do an inspection and treatment is the first thing Brown recommends for anyone who encounters bedbugs. However for many, this is not an affordable option.

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'I don't go to people's homes anymore'

For the past five years, Juan Balandra says he's been complaining to his landlord about bedbugs infesting the apartment he shares with a roommate in Hamilton.

On two occasions, the apartment has been fumigated by pest control specialists, but he says the bugs always return. After consulting with neighbours, Balandra, who is a member of tenant advocacy group ACORN, says he believes the whole building needs treatments or fumigation to deal with the persistent problem.

"I don't go to people's homes anymore because I'm afraid I'm going to carry bedbugs with me," he said. "I don't invite people to my home … I'm always checking myself, I'm always paranoid."

Moving isn't an option for Balandra, who pays $918 per month in rent. Neither is paying out of pocket for a pest control company to treat the whole building. Instead, he says he spends up to $90 every month on sprayable insecticides to try to keep the bloodsucking bugs at bay.

While bedbugs are not linked to any known medical issues — other than recent research indicating that they produce a large amount of histamine that could be harmful — they can cause significant mental health problems.

"Sometimes infestations can go on longer than anybody would like and that can take quite a toll," said Brown. "Some folks have loss of sleep, high anxiety levels, increased stress, and those things lead to negative health outcomes."

That's something Balandra can attest to.

"It affects my work, it affects my social life, it affects how I feel about myself."

Dogs, vacuums, insecticides and heat

When a pest control team arrives at a bedbug infestation, Brown says they first take stock of the size of the problem. When the human eye isn't enough, trained dogs are sometimes called in to sniff out the insects.

Once the bugs are found, pest control specialists use tools like HEPA-filter vacuums, insecticides and heat treatments that can kill the bugs in all stages of development.

For people whose landlords may turn a blind eye to bedbug infestations, Brown says their first course of action should be to declutter the sleeping area to better spot the bugs, which are about the size of ladybugs or apple seeds.

"Sometimes they can use simple tools like vacuums to physically remove a lot of bugs," Brown said. He advises anyone planning to use pesticide treatments on their own to always read the product label.

He says that some home treatments, if done incorrectly, can make the problem worse by moving the bugs to a different area of the home.

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Featured VideoAged out of foster care, meet a young Winnipegger who struggles to find clean, safe, affordable housing. Video: Sidney Phommarath and Melvin Daligdig

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brishti Basu

Senior writer

Brishti Basu is a senior writer with CBCNews.ca based in Victoria. Before joining CBC, her in-depth coverage of health care, housing and sexual violence at Capital Daily was nominated for several national and provincial journalism awards. She was deputy editor at New Canadian Media and has been a freelance journalist for numerous publications including National Geographic, VICE, The Tyee, and The Narwhal. Send story tips to brishti.basu@cbc.ca.

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