Aanteater in the News
Bedbugs snuggle up to city housing
By Jeremy Grimaldi
Rachelle Hopkins started noticing bites on her daughter’s scalp only weeks ago.
Until then she attributed the marks on her own arms and legs to mosquitoes.
It was only after trapping one of the biting critters last Friday and matching it up with Internet photos that Hopkins, 29, realized where the bites were coming from.
Her privately rented downtown Young Street apartment had become infested with bedbugs.
"No one was warned, so the problem just festered," she said. "Now I have bedbug babies all over and I am living out of my bathroom where all my clothes are in garbage bags."
Hamilton's public health department says the situation is of "epidemic" proportions.
The head of the city's public housing agency concurs.
"It's horrendous," said CityHousing CEO Brenda Osborne. "And it's not just our housing, bedbugs are all over the city."
Osborne says a contract is being tendered to seven exterminators - which one contractor bidding for the job estimates could be worth $1.5 million - to conceivably fumigate 4,739 units.
Osborne says five downtown buildings are infested and speculated that ultimately, 1,500 to 2,000 units will be fumigated.
It’s an ‘epidemic’ across city
Be proactive, clean, vacuum, report cases
Exterminators, too, say calls for bedbugs in the city have skyrocketed.
Roger Burley, owner of Aanteater Pest Control, says bedbugs are a new super-resilient sort of pest.
He said over the past three years, phone calls from residents about bedbugs have ballooned from 40 a year to 600.
"I only took my first phone call about bedbugs nine years ago," said Burley, a 22-year-veteran of the industry. "It is a very serious problem in Hamilton."
Two other exterminators have also noticed a jump in bedbug business.
Gary Embrose, of Embodiamond Pest Control, says he has four employees working on between six and 10 cases of bedbugs every day in and around Hamilton.
Dave Bethune, from Emerald Pest Control, said he can't keep up with all the calls he receives.
Burley believes some reasons for the explosion in recent months are more frequent air travel, modern pesticide practices and lack of public awareness.
"More people are flying to more places so there is a larger possibility they will bring bedbugs back," he said.
"Also certain pesticides have been banned recently and the new ones just don't cut it."
He also says people are simply not aware of what bedbugs are, meaning it sometimes takes them months to spot the problem. Bedbugs do not transmit disease.
"Bedbugs can bite someone and then hide out in a crack of the bed immobile for up to three months," he added.
As for Hopkins, she will continue "going crazy" trying to clean and re-clean everything in her apartment for the next two weeks until it can be sprayed and resprayed.
She remains angry at the building's management firm, Homestead Land Holdings, because she found other complaints from June in the building on an online bedbug registry. Homestead could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile CityHousing resident Dave Irving says his apartment has been sprayed twice in the past two years, since his 10th-floor apartment became infested.
The 68-year-old said he loves his apartment but is considering giving it up for a little "peace of mind."
"It is very hard to sleep when you have or have had bedbugs.
"If something touches your leg in the middle of the night, you jump out of bed and get your flashlight."
He, like Burley, is calling on the city to do more to educate the people of Hamilton about the problem.
Irving also believes the baseboards the city removed to alleviate the problem need to be replaced, because he thinks bedbugs migrate from one apartment to the next when spraying does occur.
Matt Lawson, the city's manager of health hazards, agreed that there is a problem but said it is far broader than Hamilton.
"It's an epidemic," he said. "It's not just in Hamilton, it's everywhere."
He added city staff will attend a bedbug summit in Toronto on Sept. 29 to better understand the issue.
Osborne, CityHousing CEO, says the city is being proactive by tackling the problem one unit at a time.
"I don't think we are mismanaging this," she said. "Bedbugs are a new phenomenon.
"I have been here 30 years where our biggest problem has been cockroaches. All of a sudden we have bedbugs."
She said that although it is a problem all over the continent, Hamilton is one of the few authorities acting with a comprehensive tender. The city has also posted information for people suffering from bedbugs on its website. Go to hamilton.ca and search using the keyword "bedbugs."
The website bedbugregistry.com lets users look up and report bedbug problems.
A Hamilton exterminator with 22 years experience has offered a guide on how to avoid, fend off and eradicate the problem of bedbugs.
Roger Burley said public awareness is the key to defeating the problem.
Avoidance: Don't pick up used furniture off the street, it could be infested. Inspect your bed and body for insect bites regularly. Pull your bed away from the wall and put bedbug traps at the feet of your bed. Wrap your mattress and box spring in impermeable sleeves. Don't use hotel cupboards to store your clothes.
Fending off: Inspect the rim of your mattress, box spring and frame. Specifically look for black spots (fecal stains) around the piping of the mattress and edge of the box spring and search for insects between the box spring and frame, where they often hide. If you see a bite mark, it's likely to be similar to a mosquito. However if the marks run in a "track, " it is a sign that you may have bedbugs.
Eradicating: Burley only suggests extermination (which can cost people $300 to $3,000, with varying degrees of success) to completely eradicate bedbugs, as he says only 50 per cent of bedbugs actually live in people's beds. However, he says putting all dirty clothes, blankets and pillows in the drier and steam-cleaning mattresses can help.