Bedbug infestations are becoming more common in North America, especially in big cities such as New York, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. The following advice will help you prevent infestations or handle the problem if these unwanted creatures have moved into your home.

What are bedbugs?
Bedbugs are small insects with flat oval bodies, brownish in colour and resembling apple pits. They generally live for a period of a few weeks to a year.

Bedbugs bite humans to feed on their blood. In most cases, these resemble mosquito bites. They form red bumps on the skin and cause itching. In a few cases, they can cause serious effects such as urticaria (a skin rash) or bacterial infections. According to Health Canada, bedbugs are not a known carrier of blood-borne diseases.

Where are they found?
The presence of bedbugs is not a sign of uncleanliness. These bugs essentially are seeking food – blood – and they pay no attention to the quality of the premises. They are as happy in seedy slums as in classy hotels.

As their name indicates, bedbugs normally live in beds (mattresses, box springs, headboards, bedding, etc.). But they are also found in night tables, baseboards, dressers, electrical outlets and upholstered chairs and sofas as well as under carpets or inside alarm clocks, telephones, televisions, smoke alarms, etc.

Their presence is generally revealed by blood stains on bedding or black stains on mattress covers.

How do they spread?
Bedbugs spread through movements of humans or goods. They can be found in personal effects such as suitcases or clothing, or even on people without their knowing it. Simple contact is sufficient for them to change host. They can thus be found almost everywhere: in hotels, homes, movie theatres, airports, terminals or stations, buses, etc.

These little insects can also take advantage of a house move, the purchase of used furniture or clothing, or a mattress left on the street being brought inside. Bedbugs looking for food can also spread to other dwellings in the same building.

What should you do if there are bedbugs in your home?
It’s not a good idea to go after bedbugs on your own. With a bedbug able to lay 200 to 500 eggs in the course of its life, at the rate of three a day, acting quickly is the key factor in avoiding an infestation.

Tenants should advise building owners as soon as the presence of bedbugs is discovered. If an owner fails to move quickly, the tenant should then contact the municipal building inspection department.

Owners should hire parasite-management specialists as soon as they are advised of the problem by tenants or observe it in their own premises. In dwellings, the owner is responsible for paying the bill for extermination, unless it can be demonstrated to the Régie du logement (rental board) that the tenant is responsible for the problem, for example based on a report from an exterminator or a municipal inspector.

To eradicate the problem effectively, the specialist must be allowed to visit every room in the dwelling and, in a multiple-unit building, every dwelling.

How are bedbugs exterminated?
The current proliferation of bedbugs may be due primarily to increased resistance to insecticides, to the point that researchers now speak of “superbugs.” In addition, some effective pesticides that were used to eliminate them in the past have now been banned. Only pyrethrin- and dialite-based products are now authorized.

Parasite-management specialists have thus had to diversify their arsenals and fall back on alternative methods that use heat and steam, for example. The use of dry ice is also being tested. Bedbugs do not survive shock treatments using extreme heat or cold.

Currently, an effective strategy for getting rid of bedbugs requires a combination of various means, including:

  • vacuuming;
  • applying a contact insecticide;
  • using steam to treat mattresses;
  • installing traps that line wooden structures and building or furniture cavities.

A detection system using CO2 is sometimes used to imitate human breathing as a way of getting bedbugs to come out of their hiding places.

Exterminators must also ensure that all bedbugs and their eggs are destroyed. Because the eggs are not sensitive to contact insecticides, exterminators must return to ensure that the larvae have been eliminated. A single screw hole in a bed can shelter 20 eggs, and a technician’s vacuum cleaner does not always dislodge all of them. You should be mistrustful of so-called specialists who claim they can handle everything in a single visit. A solid job normally requires at least two follow-ups in subsequent weeks.

The cost of a simple job may vary between $350 and $500. The price could be higher, depending on the extent of the infestation and the physical scope of the job. 
 
How to prevent bedbug infestations

At home

  • It is not a good idea to buy used mattresses.
  • Carefully inspect and clean second-hand furniture, clothing and books before bringing them into the house.
  • Put mattresses and box springs inside a zippered slipcover, taking care to seal it with duct tape.

After the exterminator has come

  • Aerate the premises fully and wait six hours before returning indoors.
  • Avoid walking barefoot in treated areas for 24 to 48 hours.
  • Place bedding and clothing in plastic bags to avoid dispersing bedbugs, and put them straight into the washing machine at the hottest cycle. Then dry them at the hottest cycle.
  • Move the bed away from the wall.
  • Protect the legs of the bed, covering them with Vaseline or tape that is sticky on both sides, or placing them in containers with smooth or polished surfaces (glass jars, metal food cans, etc.).
  • Vacuum regularly, and get rid of the bag, taking care to seal it hermetically before putting it outdoors.

When travelling

  • In a room, always inspect the headboard and the furniture around the bed.
  • Keep your personal effects inside your luggage, and put your luggage inside plastic bags placed on a shelf away from the floor.

When coming back from a trip

  • Inspect your luggage meticulously.
  • Clean your suitcases.
  • Wash all clothes with hot water, and dry them at high temperature.

We thank Pierre Saint-Louis, President of the Association québécoise de la gestion parasitaire, and Michel Maheu, biologist and General Manager of the firm Maheu et Maheu.