Businesses fear bedbug stigma

Some oppose idea of reporting cases


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Businesses could be singing the bedbug blues if a proposed public-reporting rule gets any government traction.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/02/2011 (4192 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Businesses could be singing the bedbug blues if a proposed public-reporting rule gets any government traction.

Public stigma and misconceptions about the little bloodsuckers could make a public list a real downer for businesses that can do little to prevent an initial infestation, say some in the bedbug biz.

“(Public reporting) would have a very negative impact on people who were outed that way,” said Duncan Falconer, retail manager at Poulin’s Pest Control on Wednesday. “We get people coming in all the time saying they won’t go to the theatre because they heard it had bedbugs.”

On Monday, paramedic union president Chris Broughton called for government to publicly report sites infested with bedbugs, like it does with restaurants found to be unsanitary. This came after several incidents where emergency crews spotted the teensy bugs crawling on their equipment.

At the same time, Premier Greg Selinger said the province will soon roll out a strategy to wipe out the bedbugs, including a public-awareness campaign.

That awareness is important, but public reporting may be missing the point, Falconer said. He suggested enacting mandatory treatment rules might do more to compel landlords, building owners and others to quickly stamp out an infestation.

“I don’t see where the public needs to know that information,” Falconer said, noting bedbugs do not spread disease. “They’re more of a nuisance pest. Certainly a big nuisance… but I don’t know if making infestations public knowledge (will help)… there’s not much the public can do with regard to bedbugs.”

And there is still stigma out there, and it can make a big dent in business.

In New Hampshire, a hotel went into damage-control mode after a guest posted a YouTube video purporting to show bedbugs in a suite. The bugs were later found to be box elder bugs, which don’t feed off humans and likely just wandered in from the outside.

Here in Manitoba, an ad on online classified website Kijiji promised an “undercover debugger” and highlighted Winnipeg’s bedbug invasion. “There is nothing more embarrassing than neighbours seeing an exterminator’s service van parked outside of your house, announcing to the world you have BUGS!” the ad read, pledging to arrive in an unmarked vehicle.

The ad has since been removed — but maybe being “out” as a bedbug sufferer won’t be so embarrassing for long. Since the 1980s, the bugs — which had almost been eradicated in the developed world after insecticide campaigns beginning in the 1940s — have been “increasing around the world at an alarming rate,” a pair of University of Kentucky researchers wrote in 2007.

Insecticide resistance has been found to contribute to their spread. In the last year, infestations have been reported in Manitoban apartments, stores, public housing, libraries and hospitals.

Battle plans

As bedbugs blunder into homes across North America, governments, public officials and civilians are taking steps to curb their spread. Here’s a look at some top tactics to tackle bedbug invasions:

Ontario recently announced it will invest $5 million this year into programs to clamp down on infestations. The province’s local health units can apply for funding to support local bedbug-eradication efforts in their areas. The news comes after years that saw reported infestations in Toronto jump from 43 in 2003 to 1,500 in 2010, according to the Toronto Star.

In Hawaii — no strangers they to bugs, by the way — paramedics find bedbugs at least once a week, according to a recent report from a Honolulu TV station. To protect themselves, emergency medical services built an internal database of addresses where they’d found bugs before and call ahead to emergency rooms to report they are coming from a bedbug site.

After a “traumatic” 2006 experience with bedbugs in a San Francisco hotel, computer programmer Maciej Ceg�Çowski launched a website,, to “get revenge against bedbugs.” On the site, citizens can read about, and report, bedbug infestations in apartments or hotels and even cruise ships. It now has over 20,000 reports in the U.S. and Canada.

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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