Once more around the “bed bugs are not a health problem” maypole

by nobugsonme on January 7, 2010 · 9 comments

in bed bugs, bed bugs in low-income housing, canada, ontario, public health

Providers of affordable housing in Kingston, Ontario are pleading with the city to help them fund efforts to get rid of bed bugs in their rental units.

Frontenac EMC news reports,

“I think we have a major problem,” said Coun. Joyce MacLeod-Kane, who serves on the committee of non-profit Town Homes Kingston, one of the city’s affordable housing providers.

Town Homes manages about 400 units.

She recently appealed to city hall for funding to help eradicate the blood sucking pests.

“It’s being dealt with case by case. The housing agencies are absorbing the cost and it’s expensive,” she complained.

Despite being alerted to the bed bug problem, city council did not allocate any additional funding to help social housing agencies in the 2010 budget. Mayor Harvey Rosen acknowledges bed bugs are a nuisance in social housing and other places but he says they are not considered a public health threat.

“It’s not a health unit issue because bed bugs do not carry disease, but it is a province-wide issue.”

That old sweet refrain: bed bugs are “not a health issue” because they are not known to be a disease vector.

Mayor Rosen, I give you the World Health Organization’s Public Health Significance of Urban Pests.  Specifically, the chapter on Mr. Cimex Lectularius. And the health problems bed bugs cause.

Bed bugs are, as you note, “a nuisance in social housing and other places.”

And the longer you allow people in affordable housing to live with bed bugs, the more places in your community will become infested.

Including lots of non-affordable housing, if you catch my drift.

I understand the economy and the limitations it places on government bodies in terms of offering assistance.  However, as nothing is done, bed bugs continue to spread and eventually cost a lot more people a lot more money.

And yes, I am a bit touchy on this issue.  Because only people who don’t know much about bed bugs consider them nothing more than “a nuisance.”

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1 NewBlood January 7, 2010 at 12:03 pm

What a terrible attitude that Mayor has! Argh! I can’t even make myself hope he gets them so he understands what it’s like because that would be too terrible. No one deserves these things – they’re like a fire or natural disaster when you get them. 🙁

2 nobugsonme January 7, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Thanks for your comment, NewBlood. Unfortunately, we need to educate a lot of folks about how bad bed bugs are, and how most people suffer health consequences (at minimum: stress, loss of sleep) and financial pressures (which can cause even more health concerns — additional anxiety, lack of money for normal purchases like food, medications, etc.). And that’s leaving out the allergic reactions, skin problems including infections, asthma, and other concerns.

3 parakeets January 7, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Great blog entry, Nobugs! I wish this were an op-ed piece in the Kingston Ontario newspaper. It was powerfully written.

As I’ve suggested before, those who call bedbugs “a nuisance, not a health hazard”(in this case the council members) should offer to stay overnight–even just one night–in an infested unit in this housing complex and this way they can prove to everyone that it is just “a nuisance.” If the Kingston Ontario city coucil members are not willing to stay even one night in the Town Homes units, then how can they let their constituents stay there night after night. (And if the complex continues to treat the problem “case by case” as they are saying instead of a larger complex-wide plan, the problem will not go away and will be far more expensive for the city to treat in the long run).

4 nobugsonme January 8, 2010 at 12:44 am

Thanks, ‘Keets!

I agree 100% with your suggestion.

5 Winston O. Buggy January 9, 2010 at 3:54 pm

With all do respect mighty mites, the quote was ““It’s not a health unit issue because bed bugs do not carry disease, but it is a province-wide issue.” I don’t think it diminished the impact of bed bugs in that it stated clearly that bed bugs were a major and expensive issue, but not one to be handled by that cities health UNIT, because they are not vectors of disease. Which is supported by the WHO with the possible exception of African swallow bugs. Bed bugs are a night mare fro all who have had to and will have to deal with them but science is important just as bed bugs are important pests of health significance but they are not vectors. It is more important to be clinical than PC at times as over PC and some environmental scares of the day are in part responsible for the current rise in Cimex success. ( The status of insect as vectors is specific in that it is limited to insects that transmit specific disease such as malaria, plague, Lyme, ricketsia, WNV, etc.)

6 nobugsonme January 12, 2010 at 12:55 am

Hi Winston,

I appreciate that Mayor Rosen acknowledges bed bugs are an issue.

But, with respect, there are health problems which accompany bed bugs — health problems besides communicable diseases — and I don’t think that is being fully recognized here. My issue is with the definition of “health problem” being limited to “cause of disease.”

That the Kingston, Ontario Public Health unit deals with plenty of health-related concerns which are not”vectors of disease” is clear from its website, which offers advice on stress management, volunteering, Menopause, (which can be seen from these links). Interestingly, they have links to fact sheets on getting rid of pests too — everything from earwigs to bats. But not one specifically listing bed bugs. The insect bite prevention leaflet (PDF) is focused on disease-transmitting pests. I do understand that.

However if stress needs to be managed, and Menopause is a concern, and people are being encouraged to “Volunteer for the Health of it,” then this seems like a public health agency which might recognize the health concerns posed by a stressful bout with bed bugs — which can cause anxiety, loss of sleep, among other health-impacting issues.

7 Winston O. Buggy January 13, 2010 at 12:28 pm

You raise some good points and admittedly my reaction to bed bugs as vectors is knee jerk in regard to maintaining a true vector control mission, based on morbidity & mortality. Bed bugs do need attention and committed resources I guess the semantics is
in where the funding comes from.

8 nobugsonme January 13, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Winston, my amigo,

My knee jerks when people say bed bugs are not a health issue. Your knee jerks when people imply they may be disease vectors. Ultimately, I think we’re in the same camp. And you’re right, the problem is funding.

Which means we should use both our feet to give funding problems a good swift kick. Not sure where to aim that, come to think of it.

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