I don’t mean to sound alarmist, folks, but the bed bugs are doing pretty well this week. First Caryn meets bed bugs again, after 2.5 years, then the gentleman in Edmonton who moved from one infested building into another. And now this:
Winnipeg Free Press headline claims “Bedbugs Winning War in Downtown Complex.”
Part of me says, “Whoa! Don’t let the bed bugs hear you say that!”
The other part of me says things I can’t repeat in mixed company.
Here’s the deal: in 2004, 73 units of the building at 185 Smith Street were infested with bed bugs. After a lengthy war, 40 still are.
Since 2004, Manitoba Housing has spent nearly $260,000 fumigating suites in the building, which residents say has done little to stop the spread of the mattress-loving mites. Manitoba Housing has never evacuated the entire building for fumigation, saying it’s too difficult a process.
Well, they’re not mites, and I bet you were not fumigating, but carry on.
“I don’t think they’re ever going to solve this,” resident Gary Durack said. “This is not going to stop. They’re throwing away money coming here and spraying.”
John Snezyk, manager of maintenance operations for Manitoba Housing, defended Manitoba Housing’s extermination tactics and said they are still working to correct the outbreak.
The housing authority devised a plan in 2004 to fumigate infected suites and their immediate neighbours, along with doing two followup sprayings within the following two weeks. Snezyk said they are now working on a pilot project to seal the cracks in the walls of four suites, to see whether it might prevent the bugs from migrating through the building.
“It’s not that it didn’t work, it’s just an ongoing problem,” he said. “We’re working diligently and we take the problem very seriously.”
Yes– the problem with multi-unit dwellings is that the bugs can travel. They clearly did, to get into so many units (though we don’t know the size of the building, 73 and even 40 is a lot of units to be affected). The other problem with large buildings is that many people do not have the inclination or ability to deal with the kinds of preparations the tenants must do for treatment to work. If any are uncompliant, it can really affect the others. We have seen how hard it can be when just one neighbor does not report or participate in treatment; imagine 40 of them.
In a private rental suite, the Residential Tenancies Branch holds a landlord accountable for rodents and other pests. If the landlord does not eradicate the pest problem, the tenant can complain to public health authorities or terminate their rental contract.
Durack said Smith Street residents are entitled to the same kind of health protection, and shouldn’t have to live with constant fumigation and worry about bedbugs.
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority medical officer Dr. Margaret Fast said the tiny bugs don’t spread disease, but scratching the itchy bites can lead to infection. Although there is no way to minimize the risk of being bitten once bedbugs are in the home, Fast said people can avoid getting them in the first place by vacuuming crevices in second-hand furniture.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that people just plain should not take in second-hand furniture. Look, I am not a rich person. I come from New York, where even people with professional jobs take in furniture from the curb (New York is expensive!) For students and people on low incomes, it is really rough, I have been there. But when all is said and done, I don’t know anyone who, having suffered from bed bugs, would not trade sitting on a metal folding chair, never having had bed bugs, to sitting on a lovely upholstered chair, and dealing with bed bugs for months or (in this case) three years.
Snezyk said part of the problem is tenants need to take more responsibility to help stop the outbreak. Often, he said, residents are too embarrassed to report a bedbug sighting in their suite. In other instances, he said tenants have picked up infected furniture thrown out by other residents and taken it to their suite.
Manitoba Housing is posting reminders and holding meetings with tenants to encourage them to report a bedbug sighting immediately and not to pick up any furniture thrown away by other residents.
Clearly, the information provided is not doing enough. People do not get bed bugs. We need old-style “Loose Lips Sink Ships”-type propaganda campaigns to spread the word about bed bugs. We need governments sending out flyers and putting up posters and airing commercials. I know that isn’t going to happen any time soon, but eventually, it probably will.
Longtime resident John, who didn’t wanted his last name used, said he’s become so paranoid about bugs crawling on him he sometimes gets up in the middle of the night and checks his mattress, which is already double-wrapped in plastic, until he’s satisfied it’s bug-free.
When Canadian MPs, US Senators, Hotel CEOs, and TV news anchors are kept up at night, then maybe we’ll see some action.