The Unfavourable Vampires

18 Jun

I originally wrote this for one of my classes with the intent of pitching it to some magazines, but I have decided against it since the topic has been shot out of the limelight.

I did decide, however, to resurrect it and republish it on my blog because I was just reading an article in the Star about dogs that are sniffing out G20 delegates’ hotel rooms for bed bugs. If the city of Toronto is trying to avoid housing delegates in a bed-bug infested hotel room, perhaps they should take that persistence and apply it to the residents of this city who have been spending thousands of dollars out of their own pockets to rid themselves, often unsuccessfully, of infestations.

Alright, here’s the piece I wrote:

I vant to suck your blood

This is the year of the vampire. Teens and middle agers alike are salivating over smoking hot blood suckers on television and in film, but in reality, the closest they may come to participating in this pastime will seem more like a horror story than a blissful romance. Let’s just say that this kind of vampire is far from pretty and is nothing to brag about.

Bed bugs are taking over Toronto. Armies of these mini-multiplying monsters are latching themselves to your furniture, chewing on your clothes, and feasting on your blood.

This isn’t a fairytale. Mike and Kim MacFarlane, young married professionals, moved into an apartment at Church and Wellesley thinking they had struck gold. “We got in there, thought it was a great building, really cheap rent, but it wasn’t worth it unfortunately,” says Kim.

They soon discovered their quaint one-bedroom was infested with bed bugs. After finding bug bites all over their bodies, blood stains on their sheets, and losing almost $3,000 spent trying to eradicate every remnant of bed bug life, the couple knew that their place was no longer liveable. As soon as they could leave their infested hellhole, they did. “We didn’t want to take a chance; we were too freaked out about it,” says Kim.

They brought very little to their new apartment, partly in fear of a re-infestation and in part because of the dreadful memories associated all things ruined by the bugs. “Having stuff reminds us of where they can hide,” Kim says.

Sweating yet? Before you start checking every nook and cranny in your pad for bed bugs, know this: There are ways to prevent infestations and there are ways of getting rid of the bugs, all you need is a good eye, some persistence, and a damn good landlord.

No one is safe

According to a collaborative study between Woodgreen Community Services, an East Toronto non-profit organization, Public Interest, Habitat Services, and the City of Toronto, the jump in bed bug cases between 2003 and 2008 is shocking. In 2003, 46 infestations were reported—five years later, 1,500 in a span of seven months.

It gets worse. Rima Zavys, a director at Woodgreen and a major contributor to the study suggests this is just the tip of the iceberg.

“In our experiences working in the community, it seems like there are many more incidents than are being reported,” she says.

And don’t think you’re exempt from the statistics just because your place is spotless. Bed bugs do not discriminate. They don’t care about the cleanliness of a dwelling; they just crave contact with human beings.

“The main misconception or problem is the whole stigma associated with bed bugs only being associated with certain living conditions and types of people,” says Dan Kartzalis, healthy environments manager at Toronto Public Health. “Bed bugs can affect anyone in any sort of home.”

There is also growing concern regarding bed bugs in public places. Offices, transportation, and businesses are all breeding grounds. All the miniscule creatures need is someone to transport them into a living space—an invited guest can bring uninvited pests.

Of course there are abodes that have a higher-risk of getting a bed bug infestation. Multiple unit buildings like apartments, hotels, and student residences are the most prone due to access to common areas by a large number of people, or should we say, potential bed bug carriers.

This is of particular concern to tenants and travellers looking for some temporary shelter. The last thing they need is a warm greeting by a mob of little red vampires.

The freaks come out at night

Much like fictional vampires, bed bugs do their damage at night. They tend to gravitate to dark areas as close to your bed as possible so around, in, and under your bed should be the first place to look for bed bug hiding spots. Measuring around five millimetres in length, about the size of an apple seed, the bugs are highly visible. You’ll know when they’re there and when they are gone.

They may be predictable, but bed bugs love to play hide and seek. A couple of tiny hitchhikers can hide in a jacket pocket. To them it’s a free ride to a new home.

To avoid being an unwilling participant of their master plan, Toronto Public Health suggests taking these precautions:

  • When putting jackets or bags down, avoid leaving them on the floor, near walls or on furniture if possible. Hang your belongings up or put them in a closed container.
  • Try not to sit on fabric.
  • Check your shoes and clothing after leaving an establishment.
  • Put the clothes you wore out in the dryer for 30 minutes.

Bed bugs are mobile creatures but can travel without human carriers. If a unit in an apartment complex has an infestation, for example, those bugs can migrate to other units in the building. Public Health says to do the following to halt the migration:

  • Eliminate small cracks and openings in places like baseboards and piping. This will limit bed bug hiding places.
  • Don’t bring in furniture from outside unless it is closely inspected.
  • De-clutter your place. When everything is visible, there are fewer places for the bugs to go.
  • Check your body for bites and bleeding. Proof of feasting is a dead giveaway of an infestation.
  • Get your flashlight out and do a thorough bed-inspection. Keep an eye out for tiny white eggs, bugs, and bloodstains.

Landlord vs. Tenant

Being a little paranoid may do you some good. A regular check for bed bugs can be the key to dealing with a problem before it becomes an epidemic. If you’re seeing red, the last thing you should do is keep this discovery to yourself.

“People don’t want to be associated with bed bugs in their unit but it’s important they come forward,” Kartzalis says. “Tenants should be working with neighbours to control the bed bug situation they might be living with.”

The responsibility of the landlord to eradicate bed bug problems is a grey area since they aren’t a health risk in that they do not carry disease. A good landlord, however, should know how important it is to take care of the infestation before it spreads to other units.

In terms of legalities, Rima Zavys considers the landlord’s role in treating bed bug problems as a necessity.

“Given that they’re responsible for pest control under the Residential Tenancy act, you would assume that they would have the responsibility of helping tenants get rid of bed bugs,” she says. “What happens in reality is landlords are only becoming aware of the bedbug issue in Toronto. They don’t know there is a responsibility to help tenants out.”

Toronto Public Health says landlords should tell their tenants to complete these tasks before getting involved:

  • Vacuum spaces in and around the bed
  • Wash linens in extremely hot water and put them in the dryer for a long period of time. Heat will kill the bugs.
  • Clear the clutter to prepare for pesticide sprays.
  • Monitor bed bug movement with different kinds of adhesives on furniture. Sticky objects like tape or glue boards will catch the bugs in their tracks.

There are bed bug registries online that can assist tenants-to-be in finding bed bug-free apartments and helpful landlords while also pointing out other bed bug hot spots like hotels and office buildings. Unfortunately, some tenants have to deal with careless landlords. Online registries are riddled with complaints regarding landlords who refuse to do a thing about bed bugs.

“There have been many people reporting this problem from every floor of this building and the building management likes to deny that we have a problem here,” says an irritated tenant, under the alias Itchy and Scratchy, about their Sherbourne apartment in a post on a bed bug registry.

The MacFarlanes had a similar dilemma. The landlord only hired exterminators for individual apartments and insisted the bed bug problems that were reported were isolated incidents when in fact, “the landlord knew about the problem, apparently they had a problem for 7 years before that,” Kim says.

If confronting a landlord about possible bed bug related issues, Mike suggests you “be diligent, ask a lot of questions, go online, and talk to other residents.”

Kim adds: “Once you have bed bugs, read about it, and find out all you can. Don’t take a landlord’s word or someone’s word. Do your own research. I found a million things more than our landlord was telling us.”

Dan Morgan is the president of the Toronto-based Royal Forest Pest Services, a company specializing in the eradication of bed bugs. He receives at least five to ten calls a day from frantic tenants and homeowners wishing to rid themselves of the bed bug plague.

He’s encountered a fair share of negligent landlords. “What I’ve seen is this,” Morgan says. “Condominium corporations really get rid of the problem. Disinterested landlords are not too concerned.”

Landlords that aren’t backed by a larger company may not be able to afford the extensive treatment required. Morgan, for example, charges $400-600 for the treatment of a one-bedroom apartment. To treat a whole building or even a large section may cost thousands.

Bed bugs, be gone!

We’ve cleaned, de-cluttered, prepped, vacuumed, and scrubbed, and now it’s time to exterminate.

Morgan outlines the different procedures used in bed bug termination. Three types of pesticides are used: A contact killer, a spray that gets into the cracks and crevices of walls and furniture where bed bugs are known to hide, and a dust product that reaches the inside of light switches and electrical outlets to reduce bug migration.

As reflected by the concerns of tenants, treatment of only one unit is not very effective. “Treatment should take place in an ‘H’ pattern,” says Morgan. “The adjacent units should be treated. Apartments are connected in a number of different ways such as electrical conduits or ventilation systems. Some bugs sense when a unit is being treated and will run into the walls or into an adjacent unit.”

Included in the cost of Royal Forest’s extermination procedures is a second round of pesticide treatment and a third if necessary. You can’t get rid of these insects too easily especially the first time around. Hidden bed bugs and their eggs make it necessary for more than one extermination attempt to take place. “They’re very adaptable. They can actually, after one blood meal, live on that meal for over a year. If there’s no more sources of food, they will feed on pets and things if they have to,” says Morgan. “They’re amazing little creatures. You have to respect their resilience”

As fictional vampires lay to rest in their coffins, bed bugs come out to play. They’re hungry and on the prowl, but we’re ready to slay the red demons of the night. Just don’t let the bed bugs bite.

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One Response to “The Unfavourable Vampires”

  1. Terry January 16, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

    An OZONE machine turned on high and left in the bedroom when you are at your employment also works.

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