By James Bow
My apologies if this column makes you itchy when you read it, but it’s time we talk about bedbugs. Frankly, I’m starting to itch right now, but it’s a problem in many cities and it’s not going to go away easily. In the course of another project, I’ve had cause to research apartments, and I’ve been startled by the horror stories I’ve read. They’ve been nightmares for landlords and tenants alike, and sometimes it seems that no matter how often you spray, they always come back.
But horror stories are not scientific studies, and without knowledge you cannot effectively combat the problem. While walking down the street I had the good fortune to be approached by a reader who said nice things about this column and who suggested that I tackle the subject of bedbugs. She and others are working with the Region and the province to start educating the public about bedbugs and how to deal with them.
The reader put me in touch with Sarah Ames, public health planner at the Region of Waterloo’s Public Health Department, and Dave Young, the director of health protection and investigation. These two are part of a regional initiative working with the province, the local municipalities and industry players on coordinating a response to the bedbug problem.
“We’re in the early stages of tracking,” said Young. “The problem has been around for three to four years, and is still ongoing.”
The regional response has been brought about by the province and cities in the Greater Toronto Area, where the problem of bedbug are much worse. “The agencies there got overwhelmed,” said Young, “and councillors and MPPs got involved, and funds became available for cities around the province.”
The regional initiative is as much about raising awareness about bedbugs as it is about combatting them, and the first step of educating the public is eliminating the stigma. To many, bedbugs bring up images of slums. That makes it easier for those who aren’t affected to think a bedbug infestation couldn’t happen to them. For those who are hit by an infestation, the shame can lead them to not reporting the problem, and that makes it worse.
“Bedbugs don’t discriminate,” said Ames. “We don’t want people to be ashamed or embarrassed. We want people to know that help is out there. They need to contact their landlord and follow the proper steps to get rid of them. Don’t ignore it, as it won’t just go away.”
The first step towards education comes in the form of a bed bug summit for local leaders and management taking place Oct. 6 at the Holiday Inn on Fairway Road at King Street. The seminar offers a range of expert speakers, pest control companies, and Toronto health officials. A practical training workshop will be held early in 2012 for frontline staff, support personnel, volunteers and other interested members of the public.
The Region’s Public Health department is also encouraging people to visit the provincial bed bug website (www.bedbugsinfo.ca) for information. The site offers videos identifying what bedbugs are, how to find them, how to prevent them from entering your apartment or home, and how to deal with them if they arrive.
Bedbugs are pernicious and once they establish themselves, it takes a lot of work to get rid of them. That goes easier when the community helps out. The Region of Waterloo is taking the problem seriously, and wants its residents to know they’re putting together a plan for dealing with the issue, before it can get out of hand.
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James Bow is a writer and a father of two in Kitchener. You can read more about him http://bowjamesbow.ca/