Skip to main content

Bedbugs are making a comeback around the world, prompting city officials and pest control companies to step up the fight against their spread.

An 81-per-cent increase in bedbug calls to the U.S. National Pest Management Association in the past 10 years prompted the group to conduct its first comprehensive global bedbug study. "The results ... suggest that we are on the threshold of a bed bug pandemic, not just in the United States, but around the world," said the NPMA's Missy Henriksen.

This week, New York committed $500,000 to its infestation. The money will go to creating a website that will educate people on how to eradicate the bugs, employing inspectors for apartment buildings and training city staff in the latest eradication techniques. A city survey suggests one in 15 New Yorkers (about 400,000 people) have suffered an infestation in the past year, with the critters showing up everywhere from an Abercrombie & Fitch outlet to Bill Clinton's office.

Canada is not immune - a study by Insight Pharmaceuticals ranked Toronto as the third-worst afflicted city in North America, and Vancouver eighth (Columbus, Ohio, and New York took the No. 1 and No. 2 spots).

Previous studies have pinned the increase in infestations to the banning of DDT and the increase in international travel, but Sean Rollo, president of the Structural Pest Management Association of B.C., says the primary reason is a change in the way pest control operators (PCOs) deal with cockroaches. The cockroach treatments used pre-1990s also killed bedbugs, but since PCOs moved to a food-based bait for the roaches, the bedbugs, which only feast on blood, have thrived.

In Vancouver, an online bedbug registry clocks almost daily additions, but neither the city nor the public health department is tracking the spread. Vancouver Coastal Health says it's not a health issue, as bedbugs have not been found to carry any infectious diseases.

Mr. Rollo attests that there has been a "dramatic increase" in Lower Mainland B.C. since the 1990s, adding they've been an issue in local hotels, hospitals, movie theatres, daycare centres, summer camps, libraries and airplanes. The problem is escalating in Vancouver, he says. "There's no question about it … every time there's an Olympics, there's a boom of bed bugs," noting a similar pattern emerged in Sydney and Beijing.

In Toronto, the tiny insects have been reported in schools, offices and public transit. In June, an Etobicoke hospital beat back a small outbreak and downtown hotels booked by G20 delegates hired dogs to scour their rooms for the bugs.

About bedbugs

» The most common way to get bed bugs is by staying overnight in an infested room, bringing an infested piece of furniture into your home, or through another unit in a multi-dwelling residence.

» Bed bugs prefer human blood, but will also feed on animals.

» Bed bugs generally feed at night on people who are sleeping or have been stationary for a long period of time.

» Bed bugs often bite in threes (sometimes called "breakfast, lunch and dinner").

» Adult bed bugs are the size and shape of an apple seed and can hide in tiny crevices.

» Telltale signs are black spots (think: Sharpie stains) on your mattress/box spring/sheets/bed.

» Bed bugs are thought to be able to live for up to 18 months without feeding.

» Extended exposure to extreme heat or extreme cold can kill bed bugs.

» Bed bugs are not known to carry any infectious diseases.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe