Bed bugs should be considered public health threat, Canadian researchers claim

by nobugsonme on February 16, 2013 · 7 comments

in bed bug photos, bed bugs, british columbia, canada, ontario, public health, toronto

An article in the Winnipeg Free Press showcases a new study by seven Canadian public health experts and physicians, which suggests bed bugs can and should be considered a public health threat, even though they are not known to transmit disease.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press:

“Because bedbugs have not been proven to transmit disease between humans, there is resistance to framing their resurgence as a public-health threat,” write the seven co-authors of a paper that appeared in the November/December 2012 edition of the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

“We make the case that framing the bedbug problem as a public-health threat is key to the implementation of effective strategies to its management — especially for vulnerable populations.”

The article “Bed Bugs and Public Health: New Approaches for an Old Scourge” (see the abstract) appeared in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, and examines the way four Canadian cities have dealt with bed bugs: Toronto (where public health takes the lead), and Winnipeg, Montreal and Vancouver (where public health plays a “supporting or secondary” role).

The study, “Bed Bugs and Public Health: New Approaches for an Old Scourge,” concludes:

“Although there have been no known cases of disease transmission, bed bugs can cause severe reactions, secondary infections, and severe stress that impact health – especially for vulnerable populations. Canadian city public health agencies can consider bed bugs a public health threat, support legislation around pest control and responsibilities of tenants and owners, and conduct or encourage surveillance and evaluation activities. By working with the public, owners, tenants, the health sector and other stakeholders, public health practitioners can begin to curb the resurgence of bed bugs and the accompanying personal scars and social strains.”

[Emphasis added.]

We’ve often been told bed bugs aren’t classified as a public health threat because they are not known to spread disease.

Labeling bed bugs a public health threat — and clearly, they have a very real negative impact on health for many people — may allow Canadian public health agencies to better fight this problem.

Let’s see if this idea gains momentum in Canada and elsewhere.

I think it’s a good one.  How about you?

Hit the comments below!



“Bed Bugs and Public Health: New Approaches for an Old Scourge.” Mona Shum, Elizabeth Comack, Taz Stuart, Reg Ayre, Stéphane Perron, Shelley A. Beaudet, Tom Kosatsky.  Can J Pubik Health 2012;103(6): 399-403.


1 Charlie February 18, 2013 at 1:32 pm

This school of thought seems to be gaining some momentum in the US academia as well. The real problem is public health department budgets. They don’t have enough money to do what they’re already doing, so they’re reluctant to add tracking bed bug infestations to their list of duties. It’s easier to say that bed bugs aren’t a public health threat.

2 nobugsonme February 18, 2013 at 11:18 pm

Hi Charlie,
But if as this paper proposes, classifying bed bugs as a public health threat will help them get more funding to deal with the problem, that should help.

There’s never enough funding, of course.

3 NotSoSnug February 19, 2013 at 2:06 pm

The second citation, also co-authored by Taz Stuart, “Prevention, identification, and treatment options for the management of bed bug infestations” from the Environmental Health Review January 2012 (Abstract only, paywall):

As a Canadian late of a Cimex infestation, I’m very happy to see Canadian experts advocating this. My first thought was halleluyah, but then I wondered how many public health folks were on the first paper and there is one MD- Dr. Tom Kosatsky, Medical Director, Environmental Health Services, BC Centre for Disease Control. It’s one thing for social policy wonks to be involved, but if there’s high profile public health folks involved this might gain some traction.

It’s not only funding but attitude that needs added legitimacy. My experience with public health bureaucrats in my town in BC is they literally laugh at any public health link to bedbugs. But then this is the province where the nurses union refused mandatory flu vaccinations.

4 Lynne March 1, 2013 at 10:14 am

We’ve had bedbugs in this house for maybe two months. I’m not sure if I brought them in via my suitcase (I had stayed in a nice motel in Pennsylvania in early December) or if another family member brought them in.

I rent this room in this house from a very nice family. They do not want me telling people, I think, because they feel embarrassed. I feel trapped by not being able to reach out to any city health agency.

I also feel trapped because I don’t know what else to do. I have tried diatomaceous earth as the silica supposedly cuts their exoskeletons and the bedbugs dry out. I am currently putting Scotch tape on their backs every time I see one and attaching the tape to a piece of paper and throwing that away or saving it as evidence. I actually am a little interested in entomology, so I find this interesting. But, I am tired of being bitten during the night. I have bites on my face (jaw area) on the small of my back and some on my arms. I have a few bites near my knees. I’ve used steam and I continue vacuuming.

I think this problem should be out in the open. It is a terrible problem to have to live with. I am considering taking ivermectin (dog heart worm medicine) as I read it might keep the bedbugs from reaching maturity. They have to have 5 sips of your blood before they mature to breed.

Any ideas would be helpful.

5 Lynne March 1, 2013 at 10:20 am

I have another comment. I live in the US. I guess I’m glad we are capitalists, but it almost seems like any cure to this bedbug problem will have to have a company associated with it so the company makes a profit. I think the solution to this problem should not just be a for-profit concern. It’s a real deal! Waiting for some pharmaceutical company to market their product on TV is the name of the game here in the US. But, I think the problem should be addressed as a health problem. I live in a small town (compared to New York or Chicago) and people don’t seem as open as they are near the coasts. This should not be a problem of shame where we have to keep it secret. If we are going to conquer it, we need for it to be open.

6 Realbad March 6, 2013 at 1:36 am

OMG. I live in Kentucky….. One in five homes have bed bugs hear. I rent I HAVE treated PROFESSIONALLY yet I called metro call are local hot line for HELP because I have payed 1200. since Dec 2012 and still every 3 weeks they return. They will FINE people yes FINE you if you have bed bugs. EVEN if you PAY a professional to treat… YOU have 6 weeks to get ride of them IF they find out you have them ……. I am SCREWED!!!!!!

7 gianna April 2, 2013 at 4:21 am

I certainly wish the U.S. gov’t would do something about this because it can cause severe mental anguish and family problems and who knows if it could spread HIV.

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