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Bedbugs scuttling into Hamilton area
By Joanna Frketich
jfrketich@thespec.com
905-526-3349


Be warned: this story will make you itch.

Bedbugs are on the rise in Hamilton.

“We definitely are seeing them move into the area,” said Bob Hart, environmental health manager at Hamilton’s public health department. “There’s definitely more bedbug infestations.”

The city had more than one bedbug complaint a day from July 1 to September 30 – the latest statistics available and released this week.

The 108 complaints and 21 inquiries are nearly double the 65 complaints and 11 inquiries during the same period in 2008.

“There is a significant increase in all urban centres in North America over the last few years,” Hart said. “It seems to be something everyone seems to be grappling with right now.”

Public health can’t explain it.

“Nobody really knows why,” Hart said. “Bedbugs were definitely a problem 10 to 15 years ago then there seemed to be a hiatus where we didn’t get as many complaints about them, then suddenly they seemed to be back on the scene.”

Bedbugs itchy, but not harmful – and they don’t mean you’re dirty

Bug experts blame more frequent and easy global travel, as well as changes and bans to pesticides.

“The sprays they use are now environmentally-friendly, but not as effective,” said Marvin Gunderman, a McMaster biologist known as “The Bug Man.”

He said it mostly comes down to luck whether you get the bugs, which feed on your blood while you’re asleep, leaving an itchy welt.

“They’re easily transported,” he said. “It’s especially tough for what I call public bed places, like hotels, dorms and apartment buildings where you have rooms close together and you have friends that go back and forth. You have kids sleep over. It’s so easily spread.”

Basically the crawling bugs get on clothes, bags and luggage when you visit somewhere with bedbugs or someone visits you. They can also be on used furniture or mattresses.

“Once you have the established they’re very prolific,” said Gunderman, who has even confirmed cases in hospitals.

Females lay at least 200 eggs in a lifetime at a rate of two to four a day.

“There’s tons in Hamilton,” he said. “It’s becoming a problem.”

The good news is that for most people they’re not harmful.

“They’re just annoying because they bite and they leave welts,” said Gunderman. “It will be scratchy, itchy bites. But they’re not shown to transfer any major diseases.”

Once you get bedbugs, it’s hard to get rid of them. The apple-seed shaped bugs, which are 6 mm to 10 mm long, hide in tiny spaces such as under wallpaper, in electrical outlets, inside mattresses, in floorboards or around baseboards.

“There’s a horrendous amount work you have to do,” said Alison Miller, who does outreach for Community Action Program for Children. She held a free information session about bedbugs in Hamilton yesterday.

“My goal was to stop the spread,” she said. “Bedbugs have this stigma attached that if you have bedbugs you’re dirty, which isn’t the case.”

Local exterminator John Turnbull owns Abacat Pest Control. He went more than 15 years without one bedbug call. Now he gets at least one a week.

“We had them just about eradicated. But our tools were taken away from us, so we’re a bit handcuffed,” he said referring to changes in pesticides rules.

Turnbull, who has been an exterminator for 36 years, says he often has to go twice to get rid of the bugs. It costs a minimum of $300 and goes up to $100 to $150 with each additional bed.

“You can write a list the length of my arm,” about how it spreads.

He says never pick up a mattress curbside no matter how good it looks and the next time you to a party, think about where they put your coat.

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