Snuggling under the covers has taken on a whole new meaning for some people in Red Deer.
Bed bugs are a growing problem, but by how much is not clear.
“We are seeing much more bed bug activity,” said David Brown, manager of public health with the Central Zone of Alberta Health Services.
Alberta Health Services responds to pest complaints at rental properties, hotels and motels, but doesn’t keep track of the number of bed bug calls.
Health inspectors have no jurisdiction over private property, but can give homeowners advice on how to get rid of the pests.
Paolo Mancuso, president and owner of Mancuso Carpet and Upholstery Custom Cleaning Service Inc., said in the last few weeks he’s received four calls about bed bugs from homeowners which is much more than usual.
“If I get a call it’s once every year to 18 months, a general inquiry. It’s random at best,” Mancuso said.
Brown said complaints generally come in about hotels or motels rather than apartments or other rentals because tenants think they will be labeled as dirty, fear repercussion from their landlord, don’t want to attract the attention of authorities, or they just don’t know the health department can assist them when it comes to pests like bed bugs, cockroaches, fleas or rodents.
“A lot of people don’t know we exist and the health department is interested in making sure that housing is safe and pest free and we will investigate every complaint we receive.”
Alberta Health Services ensures landlords hire credible pest control companies to safely get rid of the bed bugs even if the rental property was free of bugs when the tenant moved in.
“The landlord is on the hook. It’s not the fault of the landlord, but he’s being paid for the service.” Unfortunately, it’s not easy to eradicate the pests.
“Bed bugs are one of the most difficult for pest control operators to not only get rid of, but also one of the more expenses services they offer due to the difficulty in getting rid of them all. The treatment is quite extensive and requires a great deal of diligence.”
Eggs take 21 days to hatch so more than one cleaning is usually necessary.
Bed bugs can be detected by their distinct, musky odour and don’t stray very far from beds, Brown said.
“Bed bugs pretty much stay in the environment where they can receive a meal. Bed frames, seams along the mattresses, in between the mattresses — that’s where they hide out until a warm body comes around.”
According to Health Canada, bed bugs do not pose a major health risk and are not known carriers of blood-borne diseases.
Bed bugs do not indicate a lack of cleanliness and can be found everywhere there is a high turnover of people, from homeless shelters to luxury hotels.
The bugs are similar to the size of an apple seed and can live up to a year and a half without feeding.
Bed bug bites may not be noticed immediately because they feed at night when people are asleep.
Itchy welts on skin and black or brown spots on mattress sheets, bed frames or walls often indicate there is an infestation.
Bed bugs are making a comeback with the increase in travel, hitching rides on clothing and in luggage. Brown said a community like Red Deer may see more bugs due to its more transient population.
“With the Hwy 2 corridor, there’s a great deal of traffic. Much of the bed bug traffic is the result of people living out a suitcase for an extended period of time.”
Mancuso said the rise in bed bugs coincides with the increase in affordable, tropical vacations, with people staying in accommodations that don’t have proper protocol to deal with bed bugs. Work camps can also be a breeding ground.
“It’s all about management of garments and luggage because remember — these guys can’t jump or fly,” Mancuso said.
“They’re in your bed because that’s where we bring our garments and that’s where we bring our luggage.”
Luggage may also sit open on floors for days and a lot of people don’t take care of their clothes the way they should at the end of the day, he said.
“They don’t put them on hangers or in the laundry hamper. They end up touching the floor or laying on the floor.”
Mancuso recommends doing intensive, detailed cleaning, hitting bugs hard and fast in bedrooms where they can be hiding beyond just beds— under baseboards, in wall plugs, between carpets and padding, textured wallpaper, lamps, and in other furniture and fixtures.
He said bed bugs are growing problem in North America.
“There’s reason to believe we should take a serious look at it.”