Winnipeg's paramedics' union wants to know where bedbugs have been found in the city so its members can take precautions to avoid bringing the critters home to their families. It's an idea that is at once troubling and understandable.
The disturbing aspect of a public list of known infestations is that it could lead to the stigmatization and shunning of homeowners, restaurateurs and others who are tagged as victims of the dreaded plague. What would happen to the value of a property that was marked as infested? Would anyone return to a once-contaminated restaurant?
On the other hand, the problem is real and growing. The parasites may not be deadly, but their effect on the lives of the infected can be devastating. It's at a point where people talk freely about their fear of travel, or of visiting an establishment rumoured to have bedbugs.
Under these conditions, the city and province need to establish a registry of known outbreaks, not for public distribution on the Internet, but in order to get a grip on the scale of the problem. It's impossible to track a public health menace without knowing where it is.
The information can be used as part of an ongoing surveillance program, but also to ensure effective treatment is taking place. The data could also be distributed on a need-to-know basis to emergency workers, such as paramedics, who have no choice but to enter places that might be infested.
Unlike other workers who can take precautions when entering a building, paramedics arrive on an emergency basis and do not have time to inquire about bedbugs. They go from home to home during the day and night, each time increasing their risk of bringing something unwanted home to their families.
The province is working on a comprehensive plan to halt the spread of bedbugs, which will include a public awareness campaign. It should also establish a bedbug registry, as well as a hotline where suspected cases can be reported.
Private registries that allow patrons to report hotels and restaurants have been formed in the United States, but such devices are open to abuse. It is, however, an indication of what can happen when responsible authorities do not take decisive steps to halt the outbreak of a very public menace.