Don't let them bite: Why bed bugs are worse than ever
Published Monday, July 21, 2014 9:37AM EDT
Canada's bed bug problem is worse than ever, as experts say the pesky little bloodsuckers are multiplying in record numbers in cities and smaller communities across the country.
Pest control experts say the frequency of bed bug reports has shot up 20 per cent since last year, as the blood-sucking, rapidly-reproducing insects have continued to spread. Mike Heimbach of Abell Pest Control says that increase has been a steady, "compounding growth" in the last six years. And it shows no sign of letting up.
"They've really got a good foothold in Canada and the United States, and we don't see that changing any time soon," Heimbach told CTV's Canada AM on Monday morning. He added that while the bugs were initially an urban problem, they've spread to rural and less-populated areas in recent years.
Heimbach also stressed that bed bug infestations have no link to socioeconomic status.
"Anyone can get bed bugs," he said. "The challenge that we see is that certain people can't afford to get rid of them."
A bed bug is about the size, shape and colour of an apple seed, three millimetres long and oval-shaped, with reddish-brown colouring. When found hiding in the seams of mattresses, the insects are visible to the naked eye. They only emerge to feed late at night. Their bite is similar to a mosquito bite, Heimbach said, leaving behind an itchy welt in the spot where they draw blood from the skin.
The insects spread by hitchhiking in bags and on clothes, but they can also be hiding in discarded furniture and electronics that people unwittingly bring into their homes.
Aside from the small, red bites, there are other identifiable signs of a bed bug infestation. Heimbach said a quick check of your mattress seams and headboard can reveal many telling signs, from leftover insect husks and little black droppings, to blood spots on the mattress.
"They know how to live unseen," Heimbach said. Spotting one of the bugs is, of course, another sign of infestation, he said.
"The key is to learn to identify them and to act quickly if you get them."
Attempting to get rid of bed bugs yourself with over-the-counter bed bug sprays can actually make the problem worse, Heimbach said, as the spray can agitate the insects and drive them to spread out, widening the infestation.
"You can't get rid of them," he said. "You have to call an exterminator."
Heimbach called it a "real skill" to stop a bed bug infestation, as it requires the use of special vacuums, steam, residual spray, and diatomaceous earth.
Peak bed bug season is typically between June and October, when weather is warmest and the insects reproduce fastest, Heimbach said. Bed bugs like to hide in bags and on clothing, making them easily transferrable and more likely to spread in the high-travel summer season.
Bed bug numbers have been steadily on the rise in recent years, going up by an estimated eight per cent annually, Heimbach said.
"The problem, I think, is growing," he said.
Ontario's bed bug information site offers tips for identifying and dealing with a bed bug infestation at home. The site also offers tips for avoiding a bed bug infestation in the first place.
It recommends keeping your home clean and vacuumed, and advises you seal all cracks and crevices in your house so no bugs can get in. Thoroughly inspect any used clothing you buy, and don't bring home discarded furniture or electronics, as they are prime hiding places for bed bugs.
When travelling, check the bed in your hotel room for blood spots and other signs of bed bugs. Also keep clothes in oversized sealable plastic bags to avoid picking up bed bug hitchhikers, and inspect your luggage before you leave.
And if you do find bed bugs at home, Heimbach has one bit of advice: call an expert.