Ottawa’s bed bug invasion

by Nov 22, 2019

Residents struggle with an invasion

This year, one Ottawa exterminator says, his company has received as many as 12 bed bug calls every day.

“They like to live in mattresses, the frames of mattresses and the box springs, and the bed frames,” said Raj Bhatia, manager of Essen Pest Control.

Residential buildings in Ottawa are experiencing a high number of bed bug infestations, and many affected residents are struggling to cope.

Bhatia says over recent years, the number of calls he gets has increased.

For residents, dealing with bed bugs is a difficult, long and grueling battle that can cause both mental and physical hardships.

Addressing the stigma with bed bugs

Contrary to the popular misconception that bed bugs are more likely to infest “dirty” spaces, bed bugs can just as easily inhabit environments that are widely considered clean.

Bhatia said bugs are more likely to spread and infect buildings with many units, like apartment buildings.

“There’s a lot of negative stigma that goes along with people having bed bugs in their units or homes. The thing is, if you get bed bugs, it’s just really bad luck,” said Ann Stanton-Loucks of Ottawa Public Health.

“It doesn’t matter where you live or how clean your house is. It’s not your fault. You can pick up bed bugs anywhere.”

Ottawa Public Health does not directly address or resolve bed bug infestations. Instead, Stanton-Loucks recommends that people contact property management when bed bugs are found.

“The City of Ottawa bylaw requires that all landlords and property managers maintain units free from any infestation whether it be bed bugs, cockroaches, mice,” she said.

Orkin is a national pest control company. In 2018 it ranked cities by the number of bed bug calls it had received. Ottawa came in sixth; Toronto was ranked No. 1 and Montreal ranked 18th.

There have been reports of bed bugs at at least seven federal government buildings in Ottawa.

The information in this infographic is sourced from the entomology department at the University of Kentucky as well as Canada’s nationwide pest control service, Orkin. Infographic by Heewon Suh and Eden Suh.

Fighting bed bugs

Michelle Yoo, a full-time accountant in Ottawa, has first-hand experience with the frustrations of fighting bed bugs.

While a student at the University of Ottawa, she experienced two outbreaks in two seperate locations.

“It is so hard to get rid of bed bugs. Even though articles say you can get rid of them, wrap your belongings in a plastic bag for months and they will go away, in reality, it’s impossible to get rid of them that way,” said Yoo.

Her first bed bug outbreak was in her apartment near St. Laurent Shopping Centre in Ottawa’s east end, where she experienced more than one outbreak in the same living space.

“I really had a hard time, we had to throw out our mattresses and sofa,” explained Yoo. “I washed everything, dried everything, I even put my belongings in trash bags. It was really expensive, and they still came back.”

When she initially went through the extermination process, she believed her bed bug problem would be solved after one treatment.

“The first time I got my place sprayed [with exterminating chemicals] I had faith in them,” she said. “However, later we found bed bugs again. So that’s why I broke the contract to move to another place.”

Yoo later encountered bed bugs when she lived in Gatineau. Having already experienced a battle with bed bugs, she knew the wisest decision would be to throw away her mattress. Even though the mattress cost $800, she did not want to take any chances.

Michelle Yoo was a victim of bed bugs at two separate locations in Ottawa. On Nov. 19, she said the experience was “a nightmare.” Photo by Eden Suh.

Methods of extermination

There are many options when it comes to bed bug extermination. Since bed bugs are temperature sensitive, either extreme heat or freezing treatments can be used to kill the insects. 

Chemical treatments often use chemicals like pyrethrins and pyrethroids, which demand tenants leave their unit for four to five hours due to high level of toxins.

Despite the range of treatment options, Bhatia said bed bugs are very resilient and sometimes make another appearance even after the treatment. 

According to an insect study by the University of Kentucky, “bed bugs can live in almost any crevice or protected location. As infestations grow larger, the bugs tend to move beyond beds into other locations, making control more difficult.”

Sleeping at night with creepy crawlers

Many people who have experienced bed bugs also experienced a sense of dread when it was time to go to bed.

“It was a nightmare,” Yoo said. 

She said she would lay awake most nights, restless with paranoia during her bed bug episode. The thought of being bitten by bed bugs in her sleep was disgusting. 

Anne Laurore, who has two children, lives in a community housing residence on Russell Road where bed bugs are a big issue. She said it’s a continual struggle for her and her children, especially with her two-year-old son.  

“It’s to the point where my child would scream throughout the whole night because they’re biting him,” Laurore said. 

Anne Laurore speaks to Eden Suh about her experience with bed bugs.

For Yoo, the scars were not just mental.

“When you get a scar from a bed bug [bite], it doesn’t go away for months,” Yoo said. “It stayed on my skin for like six months. At first you can’t really tell but later it gives you rashes. It’s really stressful.”

Bed bugs use their beaks to feed on blood. A bed bug’s pointy beak can be seen at the centre of this photo, provided by Jeff Dawson at Carleton University.

Regular pest management patrol

Kathleen Fortin, chair of Ottawa ACORN’s Mechanicsville Committee, a community activist association, dealt with bed bugs in her living space as well. 

Fighting the rise of bed bugs, she said, is all about prevention. 

“We need proactive inspections. Some places do inspections once every one to three years,” said Fortin. “I think they should be done more frequently, this way they can catch it before infestation.”