March 31, 2020

Winnipeg
8° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Winnipeg Free Press

ABOVE THE FOLD

Tiny pest, massive impact

Thousands of Manitoba apartment dwellers are living in blood-stained, sleep-deprived, wallet-draining, bedbug-infested misery  

Elizabeth Warbansky desperately needs to scratch. Her arms. Her scalp. Her backside.

The constellation of red dots all over her body taunted her before she was prescribed anti-itching cream. If a bedbug isn’t sucking on her blood, phantom pests are. It’s been this way for the better half of the last six months, when the 66-year-old first learned her one-bedroom apartment in south River Heights was infested.

On one particular evening, resisting the urge to scratch, she sits upright on her sofa bed shortly after 9 p.m. She’s dressed in what was once a plain white nightgown, but has since been stained by splotches of blood. The fabric looks just like her sheets and pillows. She has tried washing out the blood, but the red stains have only turned to brown.

Elizabeth Warbansky, who has been living with an infestation for six months, has tried to wash out the blood left by bedbugs in her sheets, but she can't get the stains out. (Supplied photo)

Elizabeth Warbansky, who has been living with an infestation for six months, has tried to wash out the blood left by bedbugs in her sheets, but she can't get the stains out. (Supplied photo)

This is how the bedbugs have marked their territory. But like the $180 in Coinamatic laundry receipts or the stack of notices she has received since the summer alerting building tenants that a pest-control company will be spraying — it is only physical evidence of a deeper struggle.

She knows she won’t be able to sleep tonight, but she will try anyway. While she waits for her eyelids to droop, she is on high alert for the flat, round, amber-coloured insects. It isn’t long before she spots one and squishes it against her skin with her index finger.

"I’m going a little bit crazy at night," she says. "People are counting sheep and I’m counting bedbugs."


For the afflicted, daily life means dealing with the stigma and myths associated with having blood-sucking pests in your home while existing in a nightmarish, sleep-deprived, extremely anxious state. The mental-health toll is often devastating, leaving tenants to question what it will take for governments to deal with the implications of having bedbugs, currently defined in Manitoba not as a health hazard, but a pest that "can create a lot of stress."

It can be sleep-depriving for landlords and property managers as well. They are involved in an endless battle to clear multi-unit complexes of the lint-size, trauma-inducing creatures.

In short, the challenges are infinite.

An adult bedbug is about the size of an apple seed. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

An adult bedbug is about the size of an apple seed. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Advocates say there are far too few public education campaigns about bedbugs and support services for tenants — especially those who are marginalized — who try to rid their apartments of the pests. The fix can cost as little as $100 for a few loads of laundry and dry cleaning and up to thousands of dollars if multiple treatments are required, as well as replacing furniture. Although it has been determined the pests don’t spread disease, research on the effect bedbugs have on mental health is limited.

"It’s a huge issue. There’s no political champion for bedbugs. It’s kind of odd… but it almost needs one," says Christian Cassidy, housing co-ordinator at the Daniel McIntyre – St. Matthews Community Association.

In Winnipeg, statistics indicate the recent resurgence of bedbugs has plateaued. Last year, Orkin Canada ranked the city second-worst to Toronto for infestations, based on the pest-control company’s national index of treatments, both with chemicals and heat.

“It’s a huge issue. There’s no political champion for bedbugs. It’s kind of odd… but it almost needs one.” – Christian Cassidy

Pest-control staff across the city believe Winnipeg’s a hub for the bugs for reasons ranging from its roster of old buildings to the frequency of travel to and from the city to widespread poverty since low-income tenants may be unable to invest in cleaning supplies, laundry equipment or treatment.

The now-banned DDT, a potent insecticide, nearly wiped out bedbugs in the middle of the last century, but they began to make a major comeback in North America around 2000 in a near chemical-resistant form.

"I would be shocked if there was a multi-dwelling building in this city that hasn’t been affected at some time or another. I would be absolutely shocked," says Clint Rosevear, manager of Orkin operations in Manitoba.

Orkin conducted 5,216 treatments in residential and commercial units in Winnipeg in 2019, up slightly from the previous year, but down from 2017 — a landmark year for the pests. Poulin’s Pest Control figures mirror the overall trend.

The latter’s statistics since 2009 show annual treatments have increased more than 200 per cent over the last decade.

 


Some people carry a pack of gum in their purse; maybe a pen or two.

Entomologist Taz Stuart always keeps a vial of bedbugs handy.

"Bedbugs are a great hitchhiker, they can be in anything. They do not discriminate — you can be rich, poor, clean or dirty, bedbugs want to feed on your blood," Stuart says during an interview in his office, a dark room at Poulin’s’ Winnipeg headquarters where there are dead insects caught on traps in every corner, making his workspace look like a pest museum.

Despite bedbugs’ willingness to feast on anyone, it is tenants who rely on used furniture, can’t access safe and affordable housing and don’t control the maintenance of their units who are most vulnerable to infestations that, in some cases, never end.

Taz Stuart, entomologist and Director of Technical Operations at Poulin's Pest Control, keeps a vial of bed bugs on him and knows everything about bed bugs. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Taz Stuart, entomologist and Director of Technical Operations at Poulin's Pest Control, keeps a vial of bed bugs on him and knows everything about bed bugs. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

A well-fed, reproductive female lays between two and five eggs a day. Eggs are laid with a substance similar to "crazy glue," Stuart says, and they’re hidden in cracks and crevices.

Although self-treatment could mitigate a minor infestation, it’s nearly impossible to get rid of a significant number of bedbugs without chemicals that only licensed professionals can purchase, or a heat treatment that roasts them — in all life stages — after about 10 minutes at 50 C. Ineffective self-treatment can also spread the misery, because the bugs can travel to neighbouring units.

Not only are professional treatments costly, but the preparation required beforehand and requirements afterward — laundering and cleaning everything and then constant vacuuming and steam-cleaning — can be expensive and exhausting.

Even when tenants follow instructions and chemical treatments are done approximately two weeks apart or appropriate heat treatment is conducted, Stuart says the risks of reintroduction and reliance on the actions of neighbouring tenants in a multi-unit building makes eradication even more difficult.

Codi Guenther, executive director of New Journey Housing, says dealing with infestations is draining financially and emotionally. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

Codi Guenther, executive director of New Journey Housing, says dealing with infestations is draining financially and emotionally. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The executive director at New Journey Housing says some Winnipeg property managers unable to get rid of the pests opt to conduct bi-weekly or monthly chemical sprays. That leaves tenants with little incentive to ever unpack their belongings, since they have to keep piling them into garbage bags to prepare for frequent chemical treatments.

"That’s not a home, if you’re living out of garbage bags and your clothes are in garbage bags. That’s just not an acceptable place to live, but many families are dealing with that," says Codi Guenther, an advocate for safe housing for newcomers at the resource centre on Broadway.

Guenther hears first-hand about how infestations drain tenants’ wallets and energy. A few years ago, a new mother confided in her about staying up all night armed with a flashlight, on guard over her newborn’s crib.

Others have approached New Journey Housing with stories about being banned from school until they’ve dealt with the pests or after they’ve been evicted because they were unable to keep up with the preparation required for treatments.

"Being able to think beyond the bedbugs, when you’re in the middle of it, is a very difficult thing to do. It’s hard to sleep (and) you can’t take care of yourself, which means taking care of others can be even harder. It makes life even harder for people who often already have difficult and complex lives," she says.


Sitting in a South Osborne coffee shop around the corner from his new pest-free apartment, Tesheme Weldegergish can’t help but rub imaginary bites on his forearms as he recounts the past five years.

You think you found one. Now what?

● Positive identification is key; compare the bug to photos on the internet (check out the municipal or provincial website) or drop by a pest-control company or community association’s housing department for a second opinion.

● Immediately inform your property manager about the infestation. They are required to cover the cost of inspection and treatment.* (If you live in a multi-unit building, it’s also worth knocking on your neighbours’ doors to find out if they’ve had any issues and to give them a heads-up.)

● It is on you to follow the treatment preparation package. Ask your landlord or the pest-control company that is providing treatment for clarity.** You can also contact the bedbug hotline for guidance at 1-855-362-2847 or reach out to Bite Back Winnipeg's members. Tenants who qualify for the provincial Bug N Scrub program can get assistance to prepare for treatment.

● Treatment preparation includes washing and drying all clothing items on high heat cycles and putting them in plastic bags or containers. As well, getting rid of unnecessary clutter and vacuuming and steam cleaning all furniture and cracks. Local community organizations may be able to lend vacuums and steam-cleaners, as well as bed covers and other supplies.

● Positive identification is key; compare the bug to photos on the internet (check out the municipal or provincial website) or drop by a pest-control company or community association’s housing department for a second opinion.

● Immediately inform your property manager about the infestation. They are required to cover the cost of inspection and treatment.* (If you live in a multi-unit building, it’s also worth knocking on your neighbours’ doors to find out if they’ve had any issues and to give them a heads-up.)

● It is on you to follow the treatment preparation package. Ask your landlord or the pest-control company that is providing treatment for clarity.** You can also contact the bedbug hotline for guidance at 1-855-362-2847 or reach out to Bite Back Winnipeg's members. Tenants who qualify for the provincial Bug N Scrub program can get assistance to prepare for treatment.

● Treatment preparation includes washing and drying all clothing items on high heat cycles and putting them in plastic bags or containers. As well, getting rid of unnecessary clutter and vacuuming and steam cleaning all furniture and cracks. Local community organizations may be able to lend vacuums and steam-cleaners, as well as bed covers and other supplies.

● After a chemical treatment, tenants are expected to repeat vacuuming and steam cleaning frequently to achieve best results. Because chemicals don't kill eggs and eggs hatch after about two weeks, a minimum of two chemical treatments are advised. That means tenants must live out of plastic bags during that period or risk re-infecting items.

If your landlord refuses to treat the problem, you can contact 311 and make a complaint to the City of Winnipeg’s health department. Landlords are required to hire a pest-control company with a good reputation to treat the bugs. Non-compliance will lead to a fine. You can contact the provincial Residential Tenancies Branch to request a work order, organize dispute mediation or file a claim for damages.

** The property manager will opt for chemical treatment, the more affordable and common choice, or heat. In order to be effective, heat treatment is required for all affected units, so bugs cannot scatter, only to return later.

It’s a trigger: thinking about the infestations that have cost him hundreds of dollars, awakened him in the middle of the night in a sweaty panic and made him skeptical of sitting during his daily ride to work on public transit.

"It’s torture, but it’s not something harsh or bad right away. It’s a slow torture," the 35-year-old says.

Five years ago, Weldegergish had no idea what a bedbug was. He became well-acquainted with the "nightmare" pests only after moving to Winnipeg from Sudan, having dealt with them twice since.

He turns his nose up at the thought of their dusty scent. It’s one he will never forget; one he describes as "disgusting." It’s one that led him to discover his most recent infestation.

A bedbug travelling along his sensitive skin jolted him awake on a summer night. His eyes opened, he pinched the bug and he smelled it. The familiar trace prompted him to tear off his sheets to search for bugs, their blood or their excrement stains. He would later find markings on his roommate’s mattress.

The finding sent him into a tailspin. He thought about the furniture he had to send to the dump and the months he spent living out of plastic bags the first time around.

"Because I had the experience before — it was a nightmare — I was so scared," he says.

Weldegergish considers himself lucky, since he was already preparing to move out because his landlord had served him with a notice to bump up the rent. Also, he learned about New Journey Housing’s subsidies for newcomer tenants dealing with bedbugs.

Movers helped him pack his belongings — like a three-dimensional game of Tetris — into a heated truck. It cost him about $170, approximately 20 per cent of the total price of the mobile treatment; the rest was covered by the newcomer housing resource centre.

Purpose Construction employees search for bedbugs. (Supplied photo)

Purpose Construction employees search for bedbugs. (Supplied photo)

Support services for people battling bedbugs are, at best, limited. New Journey Housing doesn’t widely publicize its program because it can’t handle much demand. In 2019, it supplied seven families with funds to treat their infested furniture in the heated van.

The van treatment costs nearly $1,000. And a few hours in a heated vault is more than $300, not including the cost of transporting furniture to a facility, such Poulin’s’ in Norwood. But Stuart, the company’s in-house entomologist, says it’s the most effective way to get rid of the pests as long as the treated furniture isn’t returned to an infested area.

Chemical treatments can be more affordable if all goes according to plan, but much depends on ongoing co-operation from tenants and property managers. Both Orkin and Poulin’s use a tic-tac-toe-like spraying method, which entails treating an infested unit and the ones above, on either side and across from it to ensure the bugs can’t find new homes nearby.

"I’d love to say a bottle of Snuggle Fabric Softener will fix things, but it’s not going to be that easy, unfortunately," Cassidy tells a half-dozen people during an afternoon community bedbug information session at Crossways Church.

Contrary to available resources, there’s no shortage of myths about how to get rid of bedbugs. Cassidy assures a tenant that internet-prescribed solutions that include pouring fabric softener in a room, using over-the-counter chemicals or a can of Dr. Pepper are not effective.

He should know; he’s been working with central Winnipeg tenants dealing with bedbugs for years as the community association housing co-ordinator.

A bed bug steamer at New Journey Housing. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

A bed bug steamer at New Journey Housing. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

The neighbourhood association relies on limited grants to offer low-income tenants help in the form of vacuums and steam cleaners that can be borrowed, bedbug indicator traps and the rare mattress cover. An annual total of $2,000 in provincial funding to fight the insects in the inner-city ward doesn’t go very far.

So far in 2019-20, the province has approved 104 applications totalling upwards of $161,000 for its non-profit bedbug grant program. Community organizations can apply for a maximum of $2,000 each.

"There’s a ton of money being spent on fighting bedbugs in the city, but not any sort of co-ordinated event or way," Cassidy says. "And we’re not getting anywhere."

For several years, the association and other members of Winnipeg’s West Central Bedbug Coalition relied on a community bedbug prevention officer. The go-to expert comforted tenants and assisted them with treatment preparation, among other things. Community advocates mourn the loss of the provincially funded position, whose contract wasn’t renewed in 2017. According to the province, the West End association didn’t reapply for it.

Cassidy’s employer tried to self- fund it, but the people who access the association’s services don’t have the money to pay for consultations and can’t afford to rent steam cleaners.

"It then ended up just being something that is done off the side of my desk, really," he says.

Community, hotel and parks associations, along with others, used to meet to brainstorm ideas to lobby for resources.

Overall, it seems the battle against bed bugs in Winnipeg has stalled, Guenther says.

In 2011, the province established a bedbug webpage and hotline (1-855-362-2847). Information aside, tenants can turn to the provincially funded Bug N Scrub program, which supplies low-income Manitobans with pre-treatment help: staff who can move furniture, do laundry and clean and remove clutter.

Jill Hisco, who manages the pest-control team at Purpose Construction, says supports aren’t keeping pace with demand. ‘Everything is just sort of a Band-Aid, and we’re really leaving people out in the cold.’ (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

Jill Hisco, who manages the pest-control team at Purpose Construction, says supports aren’t keeping pace with demand. ‘Everything is just sort of a Band-Aid, and we’re really leaving people out in the cold.’ (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

"For seven years or so, we were providing probably 300 tenants with that service every year, and then something happened…. The money just kind of dried up," says Jill Hisco, who manages the bedbug services provided by Purpose Construction, a non-profit social enterprise company hired by the province to run the program.

The subsidy started in 2011 but Hisco says around 2015-16 the qualification criteria was tightened so only people with major hoarding or sanitation issues were approved. Purpose has helped about 60 people since 2017, but she says that statistic doesn’t meet the demand.

"Everything is just sort of a Band-Aid, and we’re really leaving people out in the cold. And people are losing their housing. If they’re not able to prepare, they’re getting the notice of eviction and then they’re out.

"This is a problem that’s not going away in our lifetime. This is a problem that’s not going away in our children’s lifetime. It has massively changed the way that independent living looks. With an aging population coming, a more vulnerable population, these resources don’t exist and yet it’s only going to get worse," she says.

Home-care workers, Hisco adds, may decline service if a client has bedbugs.

But how can an elderly person — or anyone else — unable to do the heavy lifting before and constant cleaning required after to get rid of the pests or afford to hire someone to do it for them?

"It’s almost like living with bedbugs has become acceptable, in a way," says Guenther. "It seems like, because it’s so hard to get rid of, people are trying a little bit less."


Warbansky was waiting in line at the grocery store checkout when a little girl with wandering eyes looked up at her: "What happened to your arm? It’s all full of blood," she asked.

Warbansky's arm is covered in bites. (Supplied photo)

Warbansky's arm is covered in bites. (Supplied photo)

The 66-year-old’s tear ducts couldn’t take it; she realized under the fluorescent lights at Superstore that she had been relentlessly scratching her bites. She had the same reaction when her brother refused to let her into his car when she told him about the infestation. And when she became so overwhelmed doing laundry she forgot which machines in her building she had used.

Exhausted with the ongoing battle, Warbansky admits it doesn’t take much lately to make her cry. She is taking antidepressants to stabilize her feelings and trudging on the only way she feels she can — searching for chemicals to kill the bugs herself; she alleges her property manager isn’t co-operating.

A bleach-like smell lingers in her apartment. A dozen bottles, which are labelled "insect killer" and "insects destroyer" are empty on the kitchen counter. Nothing, she says, seems to work.

"You sit there and you just cry and what can you do?" she says. In the course of an interview, she pauses to kill bed bugs at least five times.

"I’m so stressed out, and I’m afraid. Where am I going to go at age 66 with no one to help me?"


A decade ago, two Winnipeg researchers asked themselves — and, later, 16 residents, five inner-city agency workers, three landlords and two public-health inspectors — "What happens when the bedbugs do bite?" Their question became the title of a research paper on the social impacts infestations have on inner-city residents.

The answers they collected were published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in 2011, during a period when the authors said Winnipeg experienced a "scourge" of bedbugs. They cited a local extermination company reporting 2,800 bedbug calls in 2010. (Combined, Orkin and Poulin’s performed 9,264 treatments last year.)

The report’s authors, Elizabeth Comack and James Lyons, declined interview requests, citing unfamiliarity with bedbug specifics a decade after their work was published, but recent reporting reveals their findings are just as valid now as they were in 2011.

"The experience of losing their belongings, the social isolation and social stigma, and the stress, anxiety and sleeplessness (residents) encountered harmed their relations with family and friends, their ability to undertake work, education and family responsibilities, and even their identity or sense of self," the report states.

"For many residents, their already compromised health status was exacerbated by the physical reactions to the bedbug bites and the chemicals used to treat the problem."

Contrary to available resources, there’s no shortage of myths about how to get rid of bedbugs. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Contrary to available resources, there’s no shortage of myths about how to get rid of bedbugs. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

The duo argued the epidemic needs to be framed as a public-health threat to acknowledge both negative health outcomes — both physical and mental — that can result from dealing with an infestation, which can range from rashes to post-traumatic stress disorder. Doing so would also direct attention, they wrote, to the social determinants that need to be addressed in developing effective policies and practices in response to the problem to provide "adequate relief and resources."

A Manitoba Health spokesperson said in a statement that while the province appreciates bedbugs can be "very stressful," the department’s position on bedbugs is similar to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

"All share the view that bedbugs are not known to spread disease, therefore they are not considered to be a medical or public-health hazard."

The spokesperson added the province is not currently considering changes to its position.

Daniel McIntyre – St. Matthews Community Association’s Cassidy is among the advocates who thinks it should.

Since there isn’t a political advocate for better resources and bedbugs don’t fall under a specific municipal or provincial department — the issue is somewhat spread out between housing, public health and infrastructure interests, Cassidy says the problem isn’t being sufficiently tracked.

"Without it being a public-health issue, nobody’s doing research on it," he says, adding he’s confident declaring it a crisis would draw more resources.

At the very least, he says Winnipeg could take note of Toronto’s model. Its public health department helps people identify bedbug samples if they submit an insect they are unsure about.

Benita Cohen says people who work in public health are "very concerned" about mental health — but the sector is chronically underfunded. As a result, resources have often been focused on addressing legally mandated activities such as disease surveillance, communicable-disease control — including vaccination — chronic disease prevention and maternal-child health.

Bedbug facts

Click to Expand

● The pests do not transmit any disease.

● The bugs are visible to the eye in all stages, from when they are tiny white specks to full-grown adults, which are about the size of an apple seed.

● Not everyone is allergic to bedbugs and will get red bites or welts if they are present.

● The bugs often bite in zig-zag formations.

● They do not discriminate based on cleanliness, although excessive clutter makes them more difficult to get rid of after they have been introduced to an area.

● They can be found everywhere, including movie theatres and hotel rooms.

● Bedbugs often hide under box springs and in furniture seams.

● Properly trained dogs can be effective in sniffing out bedbugs.

● Do-it-yourself treatments rarely work.Solutions found on the internet, including opening a can of Dr. Pepper, pouring kerosene fuel in crevices, putting out moth balls and sprinkling cayenne pepper in an infected area, will not get rid of them.

● Spraying or pouring chemicals such as isopropyl alcohol and bleach will kill the bugs on contact, but will also only deter surviving pests to hide and migrate to other units (and likely, they will return after the traces are gone).

An associate professor of nursing at the University of Manitoba and director with the Canadian Public Health Association, Cohen notes that typically, public health hasn’t been mandated to provide formal mental-health promotion services.

It definitely isn’t lost on people working within the field that mental health has undeniable connections to public-health issues, Cohen says, pointing to the opioid and meth addiction crises as examples. It can be in a more informal way, but she says public-health practitioners certainly consider mental health when dealing with patients.

It’s a "vicious cycle" in that there has been little research on the impact infestations have on mental health, she says.

"The lack of empirical evidence means that the issue of bedbugs may not be high on the public-health priority list."

From his office just outside the bedbug capital of Canada, Dr. Lawrence Loh says public health services simply don’t have the resources or the expertise to deal with bedbugs.

"From my public-health perspective and the hat that I wear, we do recognize it has an impact on an individual’s health and a disproportionate one on (low-income people)," says the Peel Region associate medical officer of health in the Greater Toronto Area.

But as far as he’s concerned, dealing with bedbugs is a political issue and one that is deeply intertwined with poverty.

"It really falls on the people in power to figure out how do we address the infestations that are out there right now."

Perhaps clearly defining bedbugs as a public health issue would draw the urgency — from both the health and political spheres — that Christina Maes Nino says is so desperately needed.

"If you’re a person who lives in a unit with bedbugs, there sure is an urgency to deal with," says Maes Nino, executive director of the Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association.

"You need the money and the support to be able to help people to deal with them. There’s no magic bullet. There’s no magic spray that’s going to deal with it. It’s persistence, it’s having good support for tenants and having the resources to keep at it."


 

So you think you found

a bed bug. Now what?

Positive identification is key

Compare the bug to photos on the municipal or provincial website or drop by a pest control

company or community association’s housing department for a second opinion.

Notify your landlord

They are required to cover the cost

of inspection and treatment.

 

In a multi-unit building,

knock on your neighbours’ doors

to find out if they’ve had any issues

and to give them a heads up.

Call the provincial hotline

Find out what resources

are available to you.

Containment

Shake off your clothes before entering homes and other places.

Add a bed bug warning label

to any discarded items.

Landlord

does nothing?

Notify 311

The city’s bylaw officers can

inspect and enforce remediation

Notify the Residential

Tenancies Branch

Arrange for

treatment yourself

Keep your receipts

Prepare for treatment

Follow the treatment preparation package.

Heat treatment is expensive and only really

effective in single-family dwellings.

Chemical treatments are more common and effective when treating multiple units.

You may qualify for the province’s Bug N Scrub program for financial assistance.

Furniture and appliances

Move furniture 60cm from walls.

Place small items and appliances

in sealable storage containers.

Don’t stack objects on furniture.

Vacuum and steam clean

all furniture and cracks.

The soft stuff

Place clothing, blankets, etc. in

bags labelled ‘To wash’.

Wash items with hot water and

dry on high heat for 30 minutes.

Place washed items in bags labelled ‘Cleaned’.

Pets and plants

Take your pets with you.

Wait 12 hours after a

chemical treatment before

bringing your pets home.

Plants can stay in your home.

Repeat as prescribed

A minimum of two chemical treatments are advised to kill the bed bugs and their eggs.

Vacuum and steam clean frequently

to achieve best results.

 

So you think you found a bed bug. Now what?

Positive identification is key

Compare the bug to photos on the municipal or provincial website or drop by a pest control

company or community association’s housing department for a second opinion.

Call the provincial hotline

Find out what resources

are available to you.

Notify your landlord

They are required to cover the cost

of inspection and treatment.

 

In a multi-unit building,

knock on your neighbours’ doors

to find out if they’ve had any issues

and to give them a heads up.

Landlord

does nothing?

Containment

Shake off your clothes before entering homes and other places.

Add a bed bug warning label

to any discarded items.

Notify 311

The city’s bylaw officers can

inspect and enforce remediation

Prepare for treatment

Follow the treatment preparation package.

Heat treatment is expensive and only really

effective in single-family dwellings.

Chemical treatments are more common and effective when treating multiple units.

You may qualify for the province’s Bug N Scrub program for financial assistance.

Notify the Residential

Tenancies Branch

Arrange for treatment

Keep your receipts

Furniture and appliances

Move furniture 60cm from walls.

Place small items and appliances

in sealable storage containers.

Don’t stack objects on furniture.

Vacuum and steam clean

all furniture and cracks.

Pets and plants

Take your pets with you.

Wait 12 hours after a

chemical treatment before

bringing your pets home.

Plants can stay in your home.

The soft stuff

Place clothing, blankets, etc. in

bags labelled ‘To wash’.

Wash items with hot water and

dry on high heat for 30 minutes.

Place washed items in bags labelled ‘Cleaned’.

Repeat as prescribed

A minimum of two chemical treatments are advised to kill the bed bugs and their eggs.

Vacuum and steam clean frequently

to achieve best results.

I am crying in my car in the Free Press parking lot because I swear I can feel every skin cell tickling.

The red bumps first appeared along my inner forearm and then again, in a cluster on my right foot. I’m told by a walk-in clinic doctor and pest-control experts that I’m lucky; some people aren’t allergic to the bites and don’t know they have an infestation until they find thousands under their boxspring.

But at the moment, I don’t feel lucky. I have only just begun to sandwich work days between hours of vacuuming my mattress, steam cleaning my couch and blow-drying my books’ spines alone in my West Broadway apartment. I have yet to realize these hours will be wasted and these items taken to the dump because of what I will learn was a severe infestation and subsequent inadequate treatment.

 

Free Press reporter Maggie Macintosh hired a dog and trainer to sniff out bugs in her new apartment. (Maggie Macintosh / Winnipeg Free Press)

Free Press reporter Maggie Macintosh hired a dog and trainer to sniff out bugs in her new apartment. (Maggie Macintosh / Winnipeg Free Press)

Months from now, I will have lost more than half of my belongings and gone into debt after paying for traps, bottles of isopropyl alcohol, a session with a bedbug sniffing dog, a heat vault treatment and a move.

I estimate the ordeal cost me upwards of $5,000 — and that’s why I will visit the 17th floor at 155 Carlton St. My neighbours are fed up too, but tell me they’ve been advised by staff at the Residential Tenancies Branch, as well as the provincial hotline, that they don’t have much ammo.

The branch’s director, Kathryn Durkin-Chudd, tells me it is "a neutral and impartial office" that defines the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords. In this case, tenants have to immediately tell their landlord of a suspected infestation and landlords are responsible for ensuring units are pest-free. Tenants must then co-operate with a treatment plan and do the preparation work prescribed, as per the Residential Tenancies Act.

"It is important for both landlords and tenants to know what their respective responsibilities are so everyone can act quickly to stop the spread," Durkin-Chudd says.

If the landlord fails to comply, tenants can call 311 and the bylaw enforcement office could issue an order. If they don’t follow an order, an individual landlord could face a fine up to $1,000 and a six-month-long jail sentence. Another option the branch allows tenants is to seek a repair request or compensation, before launching a lawsuit.

Meanwhile, landlords can file against tenants for compensation if they can prove a tenant introduced bedbugs to a suite.

The branch mediates disputes and rules on claims in a court-like fashion. During the 2018-19 fiscal year, it considered 1,175 claims from both tenants and landlords. It is unclear how many were bedbug related.

Filing a claim costs $50 — although the winner is awarded $60, on top of damages. Tenants can also apply for financial aid through the branch.

Bedbugs resources

Click to Expand

Hotline: 1-855-362-2847 or bedbugs@gov.mb.ca

City of Winnipeg website

Province of Manitoba website

Bite Back Winnipeg website

Crowdfunded registries: bedbugregistry.com and registry.bedbugs.net

The West Central Bedbug Coalition:*
Daniel McIntyre – St. Matthews Community Organization, New Journey Housing, Resource Assistance for Youth, Spence Neighbourhood Association, West Broadway Community Organization and the West Central Women’s Resource Centre.

An Employment and Income Assistance or housing support worker

Residential Tenancies Branch: 17th Floor-155 Carlton St. (Winnipeg office) 204-945-2476 or 1-800-282-8403 or rtb@gov.mb.ca

 

If you are a client, or live in the catchment area of one of these organizations, contact them to find out more about what bedbug-related services they offer or for a referral.

As I jot down damages on a form in the sterile, grey downtown office, I realize how much time this is going to take and then, how fortunate I actually am. I can make time to print receipts, burn pest-control expert interviews on CDs and photocopy letters of support graciously written for me by my neighbours. I wonder who else can afford the costs, energy and time associated with filing a claim.

I had recently moved to the city; I had no way of finding out if the building had a history of bedbugs, until it was too late.

"It is nobody’s responsibility to note infested properties, track their spread to see if the problem is getting worse or to help co-ordinate research or public-education campaigns," Cassidy says. "Nobody’s in charge, so nothing moves ahead." Again, this is where he thinks a public-health issue designation could prompt change.

Unlike San Francisco, the City of Winnipeg doesn’t have a service that publicly identifies residential buildings with bedbugs. Upon request, California laws entitle residents to a building’s bedbug history in writing. City pest-control specialist Nader Shatara says tenants can also call 311 and be directed to his department, which can provide information about a building’s bedbug complaint history.

There are two popular crowdsourced websites — bedbugregistry.com and registry.bedbugs.net — that list infestations in Manitoba. Each relies on self-reported findings and show only a fraction of the infested buildings in the province. I can’t imagine adding the West Broadway complex to the list was on my property manager’s mind.

But it’s on mine. It’s temporary, but I feel relief when I type in my old address. It was an itch that needed to be scratched.

maggie.macintosh@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @macintoshmaggie

Maggie Macintosh

Maggie Macintosh
Reporter

Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.

Read full biography

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.