Toronto Public Health received over 2,000 “requests for service” about bed bugs last year, up from about 1,300 in 2008 when it began to track demand. Those request can range from a simple phone call and request for information to inspections and help for vulnerable residents such as frail seniors who are struggling with infestations – a task that can require support from city staff over several weeks or months.
While the number of requests are rising, that does not mean infestations are up, cautions Reg Ayre, manager of the city’s Healthy Environment program. The jump in volume could be linked to increased public awareness of the problem, as well as growing knowledge about the services offered by Toronto Public Health, he said. “More people know now where to go for help,” he said.
Public health nurses aid in linking social services with residents unable to cope with infestations, such as people with mental illness, Mr. Ayre said. The inspectors the city has working specifically on the bed-bug file also are involved in proactive activities, such as checking other units in a building with a confirmed case of bed bugs to limit infestations.
In 2010, Public Health helped 110 vulnerable residents with bed bug infestations.
A survey of requests by ward over a month-long period this summer provides a snapshot of the problem. During that period, 173 requests for help or information were made. Over that time, three public health nurses working on bed bugs carried a total of 57 cases. Most months, requests range between 120 and 150, Mr. Ayre said.
The greatest demand during the month-long period came from Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale, with residents in a handful of wards making no requests. There are pockets of bed-bug infestations in low-income areas with high density developments such as St. James Town, Parkdale and Jane and Finch, Mr. Ayre said, but added that bed bugs are a problem in all areas of the city.
“Over the course of the year, just about every ward will have bed bug infestations,” he said.