Home-care worker issues bedbug alert

'I think we're spreading them throughout the city': WRHA employee

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Every morning, Terry gowns up, donning a yellow gauze sheet with arm holes, blue booties and latex gloves, as if she’s walking into a hospital room with an infectious patient.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/04/2016 (2367 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Every morning, Terry gowns up, donning a yellow gauze sheet with arm holes, blue booties and latex gloves, as if she’s walking into a hospital room with an infectious patient.

She may change two times before noon, depending on her schedule.

After work, she strips down, throws her clothes into a plastic bag she dumps in the washer and hits the shower. She changes shoes before going from one place to another.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A home-care worker who cleans for WRHA clients dons apparel used if a residence has bedbugs.

After 14 years on the front lines as a home-care worker with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Terry spoke up Friday to say she’s had enough of the war against bedbugs in the city.

(She asked that her real name not be used because she fears her views could jeopardize her job.)

She’s convinced she and her co-workers, deployed across the city to clean houses every day, are part of the problem in spreading bedbugs.

“I go into all kinds of places. That’s what I’m trying to get across. If I go from here and the person has bedbugs and I go to a house in Tuxedo and they don’t and it’s a 90-something-year-old woman, and she ends up with bedbugs? You know what I mean? I think we’re spreading them throughout the city. We go all over the place. We’re causing most of the problem,” Terry said.

“They give you a bedbug kit, that’s what they call it. It’s a yellow gown, blue booties and gloves. But you know what, how’s that going to save you? When you take it off, the bedbugs can fly off and land on you anyway. Right?”

The WRHA recognizes the problem as a nuisance, not a health risk. Nor is it an occupational hazard, it says.

A spokeswoman emailed the Free Press a seven-page bugbed protocol WRHA uses to help home-care workers and nurses contain the spread.

“While it’s possible to carry a bedbug or other pest from one home to another, if protocols are followed and precautions are taken — like the use of disposable gowns, gloves and foot coverings — the odds of this occurring are very slight,” Lorena McManus, a WHRA home-care official, said in an email.

“We feel it’s important to provide our staff with the tools they need to work safely, to minimize risk both to them and to our clients.”

The authority supplies the anti-bedbug gear Terry uses and advises staff to leave bags, purses and coats outside infested suites and homes.

All infestations have to be reported to supervisors. But avoiding places with bedbugs isn’t an option, the authority said.

Among a long list of tips, beyond fumigation, for clients contained in the protocol, the strangest one involves Vaseline and sticky tape.

“The client may also place the legs of beds in mineral oil or petroleum jelly, or coat bed legs in double-sided tape as an additional preventative measure,” the document says.

Taz Stuart, entomologist and director of technical operations at Poulin’s Pest Control, said it’s possible home-care workers and anyone else moving from infested areas to non-infested area could be carriers.

“The sad part is bedbugs can be anywhere, from the priciest hotel room to the cheapest, from Tuxedo to the inner core. Anyone can get them, and they’re great hitchhikers,” Stuart said. “You know when you prop up a book and you’re reading in bed? They can get into the book. I’ve seen them in laptop computers.”

Getting rid of the bugs is difficult and expensive. Heat treatments, which means baking the bugs alive, come with a chemical “after treatment” and depending on the size of the house, and the severity of the infestation, a homeowner can expect to spend anywhere from $1,000 to $1,200 a treatment, two or three times.

Chemical treatments aren’t cheap, running in the range of a couple of hundred dollars. Arming yourself with bug spray for a DIY job makes the problem worse, Stuart said.

Stuart said inexplicable reinfestations happen: i.e., when a seniors complex is debugged and suddenly the bedbugs are back and the only people through are home-care workers. Thing is, you can’t prove it, Stuart said.

Terry says she’s got all the proof she needs, and believes home-care workers should avoid bedbug-infested places altogether.

“I’m paranoid about it. I’m jumping around when I leave a building, shaking my pants. I don’t wear the same shoes when I leave. I’ve had a couple crawling on me. It’s disgusting,” she said.

“I read these things in the paper how bad bedbugs are in Winnipeg and I keep thinking, ‘What can I do to change it?’

“I don’t mind going to places if they’ve been sprayed but if a person actively has one, we shouldn’t be going in because there’s a risk of taking it into the community, into our own homes,” Terry said.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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