How scared should we be about bed bugs?

Adult bed bug, Cimex lectularius

Image via Wikipedia

Knowing I work at WoodGreen Community Services, which has been on the forefront of the bedbug issue for a while, a friend asked me how nervous she should be about going to a movie theatre that night.

Her fear sprang from the furor causes when a tweet wrongly accused Scotiabank Theatre of harbouring bed bugs and the widespread media coverage how the bugs are sweeping Manhattan’s toniest locations.

“Or how about subways and street cars?” she asked.

“Go,” I said. “If you’re nervous, strip off when you get home, bag your clothes and then launder and dry them.”

We are not (yet) at the point you have to stop going out into public spaces.

Some activities are riskier, such as

  • moving residences (especially if it’s into an apartment building — so make sure to ask),
  • travelling (check those head boards and mattress seams), or
  • picking up second-hand furniture off the street (no more boulevard shopping).

I still trust the Toronto Transit Commission – especially safe in the winter when most of its vehicles sit outside overnight, freezing. And I think movie theatres – and other entertainment venues – were so shaken by the Twitter furor, that I expect discreet inspections are done regularly.

The good news, this week, was the attention that bed bugs generated at the municipal and provincial levels. If we manage our own surroundings cautiously and if coordinated and proactive actions are taken, bed bugs will be well-managed.

A community bed bug committee, composed of residents, tenant associations, non-profits, government reps and broader networks recently adopted a “Bedbug Mani-pest-o” outlining five key points:

  1. Build a public education campaign to raise awareness on the rising incidence of bed bug infestations, the methods of dealing with them and to de-stigmatize bed bugs
  2. Establish standard protocols for treatment of bed bugs
  3. Develop and promote a consistent community response that includes funds to support vulnerable populations to reduce financial barriers to eradicate bed bugs
  4. Conduct widespread monitoring of bed bug incidences across the Province
  5. Draft and enact legislative policies that support quick and effective responses to bed bugs

Liberal M.P.P. Mike Colle has taken almost all of these and built them into his recommendations to the province, only shying away from the legislative piece.

N.D.P. Cheri DiNovo has introduced a bill to license landlords.

The Toronto Board of Health and the City of Toronto are both lobbying for more resources, arguing that early interventions will ensure bed bugs don’t spread further.

Solutions are emerging.

For the moment, we can sleep tight. Just don’t let the bed bugs bite.

Toronto Bed Bug Project Survey (from the City of Toronto)

If you have them….

WoodGreen Community Services Bed Bug publications

City of Toronto information

Toronto Star Bed Bug web resources

To stay up to date, follow TObedbugs on Twitter.

The Brown Peril: How contagious are bedbugs, really? Slate Magazine, Oct. 6, 2011

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