Bed bugs in Toronto: money needed to fight this villain

by nobugsonme on December 15, 2010 · 9 comments

in bed bugs, government, money, ontario, toronto

Torontist has crowned bed bugs as one of its 2010 Villains of the Year, as they did in 2009.

And bed bugs may actually win the Supervillain! title this year, since they’ve been hard at work in Toronto.

And thriving.

After all, a recent request from the city for $15 million from the provincial Ontario government, which would have helped fight bed bugs in Toronto for the next five years, was recently rejected.

The Toronto Board of Health is still pushing the province for funding, after passing a motion by Toronto City Councillor Paula Fletcher, who CTV reported,

…said the city needs to move past the studying stages and set up a bed bug task force. She said the province should provide nearly $3 million so the city can establish a dedicated bed bug unit.

“Containing them, killing them with heat, caulking and sealing units, developing best practices; that is what we have learned here over the last four years. We have done enough research. We need dollars for action,” Fletcher told CTV News on Monday.

Note: Councillor Fletcher has been fighting the good fight against bed bugs for a long time (as this 2007 article in The Star demonstrates).

Despite the best intentions and many of the best minds being brought to a problem, funding is so essential as cities and local governments try to help their citizens fight bed bugs.

One of the ways many cities do this is by inspecting homes for bed bugs, so that local housing codes can be enforced.

We have heard reports in New York City that there are not enough inspectors to inspect all of the rental homes where tenants report bed bug problems.

And in January 2009, Cincinnati had to stop inspecting for bed bugs after funding was not granted in the 2009 budget.

Where would the $3 million go in Toronto?

Fletcher says the provincial funding would hire a dedicated staff of 17 people, including a project manager, public health inspectors and nurses. The money would also go toward improving the city’s Bug and Scrub extreme cleaning program.

Currently the city is redirecting workers from other departments to combat the bed bug scourge. But there are fears that a major outbreak or threat, such as another listeria crisis, would put an end to the war on bed bugs and lead to further growth.

We’ve heard about how poorly bed bugs are being handled in many cases in social housing in Toronto, a problem this article did not address.

We also like what we’ve heard about the Bug and Scrub program, which helps provide sliding scale bed bug prep and treatment (read more about it here).

While bed bugs are seen as a lesser medical concern than listeria, H1N1 or other outbreaks and potential outbreaks, serious steps need to be taken to control them.

They do carry their own very real negative health effects, as well as serious economic effects for sufferers and for the community as a whole. Toronto simply can’t afford to let this problem get worse.

Oh, I told you we had something really exciting in the pipeline? Stay tuned. We’ll shortly be getting a first-hand account from Bedbugger spideyjg about what he learned on his trip to the ESA conference as a Bedbugger blogger!

1 JP McHale Pest Management Inc. December 20, 2010 at 9:37 am

Maybe Toronto should start imposing fines like NYC is for improper disposal of mattresses. However they should probably raise the fine a little over $100 if they want $15 million.

It’s great to see government stepping in though. Some residents, especially in apartment complexes can simply just live with the best bugs, but who’s responsibility is it when they begin to spread?

2 nobugsonme December 21, 2010 at 2:42 am

Hi JP McHale,

I would question the idea that residents choose to live with bed bugs. I don’t think that’s very common.

I think a lot of people may put up with them based on a number of factors:

  • * ignorance about how serious the problem is,
    * ignorance about how to solve it,
    * lack of funds for dealing with it,
    * fear of reprisals if they report the problem,
    * a sense the landlord won’t do anything anyway.
  • The first two problems will, I hope, get better as some news reports improve (in terms of being informative) and more local governments take it upon themselves to spread good information.

    The latter three problems represent very real fears which are founded in some cases, and not in others.

    If someone really is broke, and they have to wash all their clothing and linens as prep, and they can’t afford even this, and the landlord tells them they can be evicted if they do not conduct the prep, then they may be afraid to report the problem.

    That’s just one example where #3 is a very real and legitimate reason residents may not report this problem. And I have heard specific stories to support why #4 and #5 can be real problems too.

    On the other hand, I do understand that most people cannot do their own treatment successfully, and that in most cases an experienced professional is going to solve the problem faster (or at all). And I know, too, that other tenants — along with landlords — are all too often victims of what the first tenant does or does not do about their bed bug problem.

    In my opinion, the government plays a role, so do landlords or homeowners, so do tenants. But it’s not a case of “evil landlords” or “irresponsible tenants.” I would venture that most people who do not report bed bugs are living in fear. I suspect most are not happy to “live with” this problem. It’s necessary to find out why they are doing so and then attempt to work on the cause of this problem.

    3 CarpathianPeasant December 21, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Thank you, nobugsonme.

    You did forget at least one thing in your list of causes: people don’t realize the things exist and attribute the itching of the bites to something else, like a skin condition. Further, if it gets bad enough, they go to a doctor that doesn’t recognize bed bug bites.

    4 nobugsonme December 22, 2010 at 12:32 am

    Hi CarpathianPeasant,

    I agree that people not recognizing they have bed bugs is another problem. Sometimes people have bed bugs and think they have another problem, and lots don’t react at all to bites, so they may not know to look for signs.

    On the other hand, it is important to note that doctors simply can’t recognize bed bug bites: you can’t diagnose them based on appearance. In fact, we understand that a skin test can determine insects have bitten, but can’t nail bed bugs as the culprit.

    For every person who thinks they have a skin condition, but has bed bugs, I’m sure there is another person who assumes they have bed bugs based on a skin complaint, when no definitive evidence of bed bugs is present. Skin reactions in and of themselves do not constitute definitive evidence of bed bugs.

    For those reasons, I want to caution other readers against jumping to conclusions and remind everyone to focus on detection: bed bug evidence = bed bugs, cast skins, and fecal stains. Our detection FAQ suggests tools (including inexpensive passive monitors) for finding that evidence.

    5 CarpathianPeasant December 22, 2010 at 10:32 am

    At the risk of boring people with a personal story here:

    I was being bitten for a good two months and operated on the idea it was just another rash when a knowledgeable friend who happened to be at my place and knew there was a problem in the area had a hunch it was bed bugs. I’m susceptible to infections. I break out in rashes. It’s nothing new and I know what to do about them.

    I had no idea the creatures existed at all and had lived peaceably in that apartment for nearly four years. Eventually I found out that about four apartments above, below and beside me had had infestation. The landlord gave no indication there was a problem. In fact, he cancelled the extermination services that had been around for all those years and said insects were the responsibility of the tenent and maintenance would be doing any spraying.

    As I said, I had no idea about them. After someone else said something about bed bugs (the friend lived 25 or so miles away), and having been blessed with a computer and internet access I started looking for information. There was little online in the likes of news stories and what there was even carried inaccuracies, like a wrong city.

    If my friend hadn’t been alert, I hate to think of what might have happened considering what did happen. And, there’s no need to go into the rest of the story here; but, it’s a clear-cut case of someone not knowing.

    6 JP McHale Pest Management Inc. December 23, 2010 at 10:40 am


    I agree, ignorance and funds are probably the top two reasons why people do not hire a PCO. It’s sad to see people like this…that’s why I was saying it’s good to see governments taking the proper steps to educate the public, as well as media keeping a large light on the bed bug epidemic.

    7 nobugsonme December 24, 2010 at 1:01 am

    HI CarpathianPeasant,

    I absolutely agree that there are many cases like yours where someone has bed bugs but has no idea what is causing their skin problem. There needs to be more awareness. I am glad someone was able to alert you to the existence of this problem.

    On the other hand, you mentioned in your prior comment the problem of people who “go to a doctor that doesn’t recognize bed bug bites.” And it is important that readers know it simply is not possible for doctors to diagnose bed bug bites with any certainty.

    The other side of the coin from your story is the many people who decide they have bed bugs in the absence of actual bed bug samples, cast skins, or fecal stains — and who often pour a lot of money and time and energy into a treatment plan that won’t solve their problem, because they actually have bird mites, folliculitis, or some other issue. It happens a lot, just as the situation you described does.

    I simply wanted to highlight the importance of detecting actual bed bug evidence, and to warn others who might be reading not to rely on a doctor’s “diagnosis” of bed bugs.

    8 CarpathianPeasant December 24, 2010 at 2:15 am

    Okay. 🙂

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