Halifax tenants dealing with with bed bugs and unsympathetic health department

by nobugsonme on November 10, 2008 · 3 comments

in anxiety, bed bug bites, bed bugs, bed bugs and health, canada, public health, sleep

The Chronicle Herald in Halifax had more to say about bed bugs on Sunday, reminding readers that it can be hard to get a landlord to deal with bed bugs in private rentals, and pointing out exactly why the provincial government isn’t getting involved:

Tenants who move into privately owned apartments already infested with bedbugs might have trouble finding help to deal with unsympathetic landlords.

The provincial government doesn’t typically have much to do with that type of problem because it isn’t considered a risk to the public, Tara Walsh of the Department of Health Promotion and Protection said. “We wouldn’t address it.”

“Similar to lice, it’s a public health nuisance. There’s not a public health threat, it’s not a communicable disease, so it doesn’t cause disease, it’s just an infestation.”

“It’s just an infestation.”

I strongly believe that this kind of thinking is a failure of the imagination on the part of the public health officials in Nova Scotia.

The World Health Organization seems to think bed bugs are a public health concern. So much so, that as Renee of New York vs. Bed Bugs noted, WHO put a bed bug on the cover of this recent publication entitled The Public Health Significance of Urban Pests, alongside a rat and a tick.

Not alongside a louse, or a carpenter ant, or a carpet beetle.

Though bed bugs are not yet known to spread communicable diseases, they obviously cause problems with sleep, anxiety, and intense itching. The WHO study identifies allergic and immune system reactions to bed bug bites, including (occasionally) anaphylaxis, as well as a possible connection with bronchial asthma.

And desperate people may harm themselves and their families by misusing pesticides while attempting to get rid of their problems.

In addition, when people are on a tight budget, an unexpected outlay of funds (for bed bug treatment, or to replace discarded items) may also contribute to other health problems, because funds may be re-appropriated from other areas of life, such as the purchase of healthy foods.

You can read the Chronicle Herald article here. And read this story from yesterday, which shows that even in Halifax public housing, where the landlord does cover bed bug treatment, solutions to bed bug problems may be slow to reach tenants.

1 Doug Summers MS November 10, 2008 at 12:34 pm

There are several interesting quotes contained in the WHO report that could be used to make the case that bed bugs are a serious public health issue.

For example:

Medical clinicians, however, have reported the following significant symptoms as due to common bedbug bites:
•serious local redness and intense itching, both immediately and after several days delay
(Sansom, Reynolds & Peachey, 1992);
•disseminated bullous eruption with systemic reaction (Liebold, Schliemann-Willers &
Wollina, 2003);
•true anaphylaxis, which has been misinterpreted as coronary occlusion (Parsons, 1955).

Besides the effects of direct bites, airborne common bedbug allergens that are always released during infestations may produce bronchial asthma.

Nevertheless, shedding of viral DNA fragments in faecal matter
and transstadial (across life stage) transmission of hepatitis B virus seem to support the possibility of mechanical transmission by contaminated faeces, or when bugs are crushed during feeding onto abraded skin by a susceptible person (Jupp et al., 1991; Blow et al., 2001).

Some people can develop a general malaise from numerous bedbug bites; that, along with the loss of sleep and extreme itching of bug bites, can lower a person’s vitality and make individuals listless and almost constantly uncomfortable.

Numerous routine bedbug bites can contribute to anaemia and may even make a person more susceptible to common diseases (Usinger, 1966; Snetsinger, 1997)”

Although, the book was just recently published, the most recent citations appear to be from 2005.

Unfortunately, the mental health impacts that are listed in the chapter are rather understated.

At the NPMA conference last month, a state public health regulator stated that some health departments have ruled the bed bugs are a public health threat due to the possibilty that bite wounds can become infected which may cause severe harm to fragile populations like diabetics and others with chronic health issues.

A PCO related a story about a patient that developed a MRSA infection at the site of bed bug bite wounds.

2 nobugsonme November 10, 2008 at 2:16 pm

Thanks, Doug, for fleshing out the specifics of the WHO document, and for your report of the NPMA discussion, and the MRSA story.

You’re right that mental health effects can be significant too.

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