Fear of being bitten

Bed bugs ‘a medical concern, a nuisance and a societal problem,’ but not a health hazard

Bed bugs don’t discriminate. No matter how clean a residence is or where it is located, if there are people, there can be bed bugs. While some residents have had enough, their reactions might be overkill.

Lincoln Poulin, vice-president of technical operations for Poulin’s Pest Control, believes that awareness is the key to dealing with bed bugs.

“You have to make yourself aware,” he said. “Dirt and filth have nothing to do with bed bugs.

The problem is tenants who don’t take care of it in time.”

People living in apartments should report an infestation as soon as it is discovered, as it is up to the landlord to start treatment. The tenant must then keep up the treatment, as one is often not enough.

Poulin compared the treatment to taking antibiotics – you might be symptom-free for a while, but they could return if the treatment isn’t completed. Treatment includes inspecting the apartments surrounding the infestation to see if they have spread.

One issue is that if an apartment is infested and the tenants move out, there is no legal obligation for the landlord to report the infestation to the new tenants.

Darren Cooper from the Residential Tenancies Branch said that according to the Residential Tenancies Act, a landlord is not to misrepresent a unit, but it is not legally binding.

“There isn’t any policy ... to disclose,” he said, adding that if a place is uninhabitable, a new tenant can leave within five days without warning.

While bed bugs can be annoying, people shouldn’t worry about getting sick from them.

“They’re a medical concern, a nuisance and a societal problem, but they are not a health hazard,” said Mike LeBlanc, chief public health inspector for Manitoba Health.

He added that they would have to pass on communicable disease to be considered a health hazard, which they do not. The medical concerns are secondary, such as allergic reactions and scratches due to the bites.

Whether a health risk or not, they are an unwelcome visitor for most people.

Prin Roussin lives in an apartment on Colony Street in West Broadway, and has dealt with two infestations in the past six months.

“I freaked out,” he said about finding them in his apartment the first time in March. Even after treatment, Roussin threw out his bed.

He admitted that it was more of a psychological issue than health.

“I never felt comfortable in it again,” he said. “I got the creepy-crawlies just thinking about going to bed.”

After the first treatment, the bugs stayed away, but they returned in August. Roussin said he got lazy with the treatment once he saw the infestation going down. His rental agency, Sussex Realty, have since fumigated his apartment, but Roussin still doesn’t sleep easy.

“(I) just don’t think they can be gotten rid of,” he said, adding that the stigma and fear of having bugs can be worse than the infestation itself.

“You don’t want to have people over, you don’t want to go places. It’s exhausting,” he said.

Poulin said that if tenants follow instructions, an infestation can be taken care of completely.

Published in Volume 65, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 9, 2010)

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