Vancouver official blames hanky-panky for bed bugs in nice areas

by nobugsonme on June 28, 2007 · 30 comments

in bed bug epidemic, bed bugs, bed bugs in hotels, british columbia, canada, government, spread of bed bugs, vancouver

Here’s a new spin on the spread:

Vancouver’s health officer thinks people are getting bed bugs in Vancouver because they go to the Downtown Eastside and do “naughty things,” Canada’s CBC news reported yesterday.

Bedbugs are spreading across Vancouver. And the city’s chief medical health officer is blaming promiscuity for the itchy problem.

“People occasionally go to the Downtown Eastside and do naughty things,” said Dr. John Blatherwick.

Now the infestations are spreading from Vancouver’s troubled neighbourhood to the city’s residential areas.

“People take them back to their spouses and their spouses wonder where they got their bedbugs from,” said Blatherwick.

Politician Lorne Mayencourt (mentioned yesterday)

… stresses it’s important to treat the entire building, not just the affected suite.

Both Blatherwick and Mayencourt say educating the public on the symptoms of bedbugs and how to get rid of them will go a long way toward stopping the spread.

I agree that education is crucial.

However, telling people that they’re getting bed bugs by sleeping around in rougher neighborhoods (and perhaps he meant not just promiscuity but also prostitution?) is not the full story. Plenty of Vancouver citizens, from every neighborhood, walk of life, and economic class, are being hit with bed bugs. You can bet the bugs are going in all directions.

Education requires giving people the full story. (And also being direct rather than using cryptic phrases like “being naughty”. I have to admit a distrust for medical doctors who use euphemisms like that.)

Chastity is not going to keep bed bugs from spreading. Any activity that means people are interacting (whether it’s a house of worship, a homeless shelter, a conference, the opera or a ball game, riding on buses, planes, trains, and taxis, going to work) is going to spread bed bugs.

I also seriously do not think the chief medical health officer should be associating bed bugs with poverty; that went out in the 1940s. It is undoubtedly harder for the poor to get rid of bed bugs, and so they linger much longer. But the solution is to help fund that, and to fight for change.

But don’t kid yourselves–some of those bed bugs are undoubtedly going in the other direction, from the nice neighborhood to the not-as-nice. As long as more affluent folks think they are safe (as long as they keep it in their pants), bed bugs are going to keep moving around.

1 Bugalina June 28, 2007 at 2:09 pm

What idiocy. Do they think that if they get a hold on their prostiution bed bugs will be eradicated ! My advice to them would be to start looking at things realistically. Bed Bugs are fast breeding bugs that suck (all) human blood, period. They should put their efforts into getting legislation passed that will allow a higher residual chemical onto the market and stop blaming poverty and prostitution. However, for those who have been to Vancouver, as I have, this area they speak of – downtown eastside – is the perfect storm area for a continual bed bug breeding ground. Without any decent chemical, they are facing severe infestations. Vancouver is a relatively small City. This area is in very close proximity to high tourist traffic AND lets not forget all the Cruise Ships that dock in Downtown. Lots of bed bugs are cruising around in them as well. Forget blame and start exterminating..Big time….

2 nightshirt June 28, 2007 at 3:01 pm

BB ARE NOT A VD. cant even believe the thought. but you know so many of us were naieve before we got them. they need to do their research also. they will figure it out, hopefully. also im glad canadas government is getting involved. it will take a while but i bet something good will come of this for vancouver.

3 nobugsonme June 28, 2007 at 4:22 pm

Anon, I am sure that Vancouver public health chief gets that bed bugs are not technically a sexually transmitted disease.

What Vancouver officials quoted above do not get is that bed bugs can move freely and will infest anyone. It is certainly true that visiting an infested home or hotel (or indeed having someone with bed bugs visit your home or hotel room), is a likely source. But so is the bus, the taxi, the board room, the doctor’s office, and the multiplex. And they don’t seem to be getting that.

Or the fact that poor people need financial help and new laws enacted and public education campaigns to help stop the spread.

I hear Bugalina’s call (here and in several other recent comments in the last few days) for a better residual pesticide, and I agree that is needed.

But in the meantime, other measures can and must be taken. I know Bugalina would have to agree with that too, since she herself did plenty of things to get rid of her own bed bugs, rather than waiting for the magic bullet. We can’t wait, we have to do what we can do, while we wait.

4 hopelessnomo June 28, 2007 at 4:31 pm

This is so ridiculous I had to look him up. Blatherwick is retiring, literally right now, after a distinguished career. I think it’s a generational thing. And gender and everything else. His replacement will no doubt bring a different mindset to the problem.

5 nobugsonme June 28, 2007 at 4:38 pm

Thanks for that perspective, Nomo, and the link. He has indeed had a distinguished career, and was a pioneer in helping encourage safer sex practices at the start of the AIDs epidemic, a pioneer with needle exchange programs, and a pioneer in eliminating secondhand smoke from the workplace.

I note that he plans to tour Ireland, Cambodia, and Newfoundland with his wife in his retirement. I truly hope he does not experience bed bugs himself, but he will undoubtedly meet many people touched by them. I do hope his successor learns more about the causes of bed bugs and how to help stop them spreading.

6 Bugalina June 28, 2007 at 4:50 pm

What these officials may not realize is that bed bugs are not a “proactive” bug…but rather a “reactive” bug….Does this make any sense?? My behavior had nothing to do with getting my infestation…nothing…I did nothing irresponsible …. I didn’t have “unsafe sex”..I didn’t “share a needle”….blah blah blah….I let a visitor into my home with luggage…and if I had lived in a multiple family dwelling I could have..inadvertantly, infested the surrounding apts…the people living around me would have done nothing “wrong”…Maybe this is what this gentleman has to understand…..Behavior has little to do with “getting” an infestation…It’s what one does after they become infested that makes the difference…

7 nobugsonme June 28, 2007 at 4:59 pm

Absolutely, Bugalina–

Except that some people do engage in behaviors that (sadly) make getting bed bugs more likely: sleeping in hotels (regardless of price or quality!), purchasing items in secondhand outlets, flea markets, etc., taking in furniture or other items off the street, visiting others with bed bugs– so I know you’d agree that there are behaviors people need to learn not to engage in.

None of those are immoral behaviors. And one can certainly get bed bugs without doing any of the above. But I think we’d all agree those things must be avoided or done with extreme caution.

There was a kind of moral tinge to the remarks in the article–as if people who were committing adultery or sleeping with prostitutes were more likely to get bed bugs than others, who did not do those things. But it’s the getting-exposed-to-bed-bugs part of the equation, and not any perceived to be immoral activity that might have been happening at the same time–that causes the problem.

8 Bugalina June 28, 2007 at 5:25 pm “normal life” those behaviors are not immoral but bed bugs have actually put some of those behaviors into an “immoral greyish area”….Now, I do think it is immoral to sell reconditioned mattresses..and I do think its immoral to pick up used mattresses in the same trucks that new ones are being delivered in, but its the government which is still allowing these businesses to operate. .To me, the biggest immoral offense with bed bugs might be “non disclosure”….and at the highest level our governments are refusing to disclose and educate the general public about this epidemic.

9 buggedinbrooklyn June 28, 2007 at 5:59 pm

now I have heared everything.


10 Sean June 28, 2007 at 7:37 pm

Hello All,

Please see my comments here.

And to comment on this thread:

The Media misquotes people all the time, and more often than not chop off bits to shorten it. I have fallen victim to this many times.

I think what Dr. Blatherwick was trying to state was:

The downtown eastside if by far the most heavily infested area of Vancouver. It is also an area of transients, low income “hotels” and residences, homelessness, drug use, and prostitution.

The bed bug problem is compounded in this area by prostitution [as they visit multiple residents and buildings], by drug use [as dealers, shooters, etc. visit friends and clients], and by the high rate of “recycling belongings or dumpster-diving.”

Entomologist / Pest Professional

11 nobugsonme June 28, 2007 at 7:50 pm

That makes much more sense, Sean. And yes, we should remember the media does mis-quote people. I’ve expeirenced that too.

(Assuming it doesn’t encourage those from other parts of Vancouver to think they’re not at risk if they avoid that area and those activities…)

12 hopelessnomo June 28, 2007 at 7:52 pm

But Sean, this is a direct quote: “People take them back to their spouses and their spouses wonder where they got their bedbugs from.” As is “People occasionally go to the Downtown Eastside and do naughty things.” Are you suggesting, well, what are you suggesting?

The article is here for us to judge for ourselves. The journalist writes at the top of the story:

Bedbugs are spreading across Vancouver. And the city’s chief medical health officer is blaming promiscuity for the itchy problem.

Interpretation out of thin air? I’m prepared to believe that he made some off the cuff remark that he should not have. I don’t want to pick on the guy on his last day on the job, but really, short of outright invention by the journalist, I’m not sure how to explain away the direct quotes.

13 Sean June 28, 2007 at 8:10 pm

I think that he is in fact referring to one method of having bed bugs introduced to a home … A john visiting a prostitute and then returning home.

What was probably left out of the article were the other ways and reasons that they can get into a home.

14 hopelessnomo June 28, 2007 at 8:13 pm

And, frankly, the other reason that I don’t like this guy is that I think he (publicly) blames NYC for Vancouver’s problem. And, well, I just love that sort of thing.

How do I know this? When I was looking for him today in the google wilderness, I saw a presentation of his and then another bedbug story where he is the primary source; the same factoid in both, namely, that the “outbreak” started in NYC in 1999. So, yes, I’m parsing a bullet point in a stupid PowerPoint presentation and the slant of a news story, but if I can’t do that, I give up.

OK, here and here.

End rant. Yes, I take this way too seriously.

And, final by the way, in this other story, if you read to the end, you’ll see another choice quote:

“People go down [to the Downtown Eastside] for a lot of reasons that a lot of people in the suburbs don’t like to admit and they use those rooms and they bring bedbugs back to their dwellings.”

15 Bugalina June 28, 2007 at 8:21 pm

This “eastside area” is a short walking distance to pricey hotels and the Vancouver waterfront. Vancouver, in comparison to NYC, is much smaller. The City , I think, realizes that this area poses a big problem in regards to keeping a thriving bed bug population going strong everywhere…NOT just in those who frequent prostitutes…its ludicrous to think so. So its in their best interest to concentrate on this area. Having allowed Overt drug use and prostitution for years, they have their hands full. Prosituition and drug use will not be eradicated so hopefully they will come up with a “cure” for bed bugs. As I said before, prostitution and drug use are behaviorial issues. Bed Bugs, for the most part, are not….there is a wide divide between doing something that has known consequences and just sitting down on a park bench that is infested with bed bugs ( homeless people frequent the streets of Vancouver, sleeping on benches and begging at many corners )….If these people carry bed bugs then unsuspecting people are likely victims….Everything that has to do with bed bugs presents a conundrum.

16 nobugsonme June 28, 2007 at 10:52 pm

But it would be more responsible to _also_ point out that business people who make frequent trips, pilots, and flight attendants, for example, are at high risk of bringing bed bugs home.

I do think Vancouver is way ahead of NYC on taking steps to deal with the problem.

I don’t think anyone in NYC would try to connect prostitution and bed bugs, because we can see bed bugs spread quite easily to people of every social and economic class, without any “hanky panky.”

(I do so love saying hanky-panky. I am glad this word came up in an article today.)

17 James Buggles June 29, 2007 at 3:19 am

It sounds like he’s confusing bedbugs with scabies. Regarding Bugalina’s point, has anyone noticed that Bloomberg has turned a blind eye to the homeless in New York? Giuliani kept them off the streets. Now they’re back with a vengeance. Unlike the old days, they all push around these incredibly large carts full of God knows what. If Bloomberg insists on taxing commuters who, God forbid, want to use their cars, can we at least use the money to feed, clothe, and house these people. Jeez.

18 Bugalina June 29, 2007 at 1:28 pm

I might take some flak for this but I think Giuliani did a great job with NYC. I don’t want to get into politics…pleez…but Bloomberg is different….He is a good administrator but he is, imho, a man who doesn’t really understand what people need…under his administration, bed bugs have become out of control in homeless shelters….now , someone had to know this was going on, and tell him, but I think he just doesn’t care…I think he understands finances but not the human heart….Hopefully Vancouver can show how to get the job done…this would be wonderful because they have a big bed bug problem…so if they can get it under control it will serve as a model for others to follow…fingers crossed…

19 James Buggles June 29, 2007 at 2:12 pm

Yes, Giuliani was a better mayor — kind of like Richard Daley in Chicago. Both men understand why it’s important to keep a city clean. It makes you feel better about living and working in a city when there’s no trash on the sidewalks, no homeless people walking around, etc. It also reduces crime.

20 nobugsonme June 29, 2007 at 2:49 pm

I think it is important to recognize that NYC’s bed bug problems began in Giuliani’s reign but were not as noticeable when there were few. Homeless shelters were overcrowded and breeding bed bugs before Giuliani left office too.

I don’t think we know for sure that he would be doing anything different now. (That said, I am definitely not defending Bloomberg.)

I also think that homelessness and poverty are getting worse, but this may be more visible now because of the recession, because the economy is so bad (not least of which because we’re sending so much money on a war).

21 Bugalina June 29, 2007 at 3:25 pm

Buggles….I grew up in Chicago…in the Daley era…the old man !!! Not the son…he was a tough SOB but he knew how to run a City, like, imho Giuliani. As for bed bugs during Giuliani…yes I suppose they were there but probably not quite at the “walls moving” numbers of recent years. I remember when he got rid of the squeegee men..I was SO happy…they used to spit on my windshield and scare me to death. Actually nobugs, NYC has a very healthy economy…their financial coffers are in the blue. The problem is that people who cannot function in society as we know it, either because of drugs, depression, etc. need to be given at the very least , some basic,decent housing. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just clean and functioning. But this never happens. Trust me, I saw the Eastside of Vancouver. It would shock you…the needle using addicts are shooting up in the daytime. They beg everywhere. Imo, Vancouver has allowed this to get out of hand, and its not a pretty sight. Now, with bed bugs it presents another serious conondrum because these bugs hitchhike…I am not saying that bed bugs aren’t coming in on other folks…but these people on the Eastside don’t have the means to do something about their infestations…thus they are breeding the bugs on a massive scale….That’s what happened in the homeless shelters under Bloomberg….One of our members asked his exterminator what was the worse case of bed bugs he worked on. He told our fellow blogger that the walls in some City shelters appeared to be moving because there were thousands of bed bugs on them…This is under Bloomberg…I find that completely irresponsible…no words can express how this could be allowed to get so out of control….Yes..the war….I can’t go there…too upsetting….Lets just hope our soldiers can get the care and treatment they deserve when they come home…..

22 nobugsonme June 29, 2007 at 11:05 pm

I was referring to the national economy, which has an effect on individuals’ poverty, and is affected by the current political events. I don’t doubt the city has plenty of money.

Sean described in another comments thread actions being taken in Vancouver to halt the spread of bed bugs. So actually bed bugged residents there probably have a better situation than people living in similar housing conditions in NYC.

23 James Buggles June 30, 2007 at 2:52 am

NB, the national economy is doing extremely well. International too for that matter. Unemployment is at historical lows. Stock prices are off the charts. There is no recession, which by definition involves a contraction of the economy. Why do you believe the economy is performing poorly despite the numbers?

We’re seeing more homeless now simply because Bloomberg is not hiding them as Giuliani did. As Bugalina noted, most of these people are mentally ill. As a society, we need to house them and get them off the streets. It’s one of the few good uses of tax dollars.

24 Bugalina June 30, 2007 at 7:39 am

Buggles I agree…These people benefit from social services. The dollars are there,, but they are not being allocated properly. I speak from supposition , but the majority of the homeless people on the street have serious problems…they aren’t just unemployed…According to a PCO the shelters have serious bed bug problems…We have to hope that the City is taking this seriously and seeing this as a problem that concerns everyone…

25 nobugsonme June 30, 2007 at 1:29 pm


I am glad the national economy is doing so well, thanks for clarifying that!

26 Paul July 12, 2007 at 10:32 pm

Just what bed bug victims need, further shame and ostracism.

27 BBcoukHome March 10, 2008 at 2:53 pm

I have seen a few house of ill repute that have been infested with bed bugs so am not too suprised to see this kind of article surface eventually.

Although they are unlikely to be the primary reason for the spread of bed bugs in a city it can be one of many factors.

If the report caused a few extra people to become bed bug aware it cant be too much of a bad thing. At this stage of the spread we have to say that most publicity is good publicity if the message to check and be careful is getting out there.


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