Toronto bed bugs so bad they’ll soon spread on transit, in theatres, experts warn

The city’s bed bug infestation has grown so quickly and drastically that the blood-sucking crawlers have spread outside homes and are latching on to Torontonians at work – and could soon spread on public transit and even in movie theatres, researchers say.

“There isn’t a place in Toronto that is exempt, everyone is susceptible. Bed bugs will find their way to you, eventually, and it’s in everybody’s interest to address this now,” said Sean Meagher, a coauthor of a new report.

“It’s not about cleanliness or income or what neighbourhood you live in. You will see them in five-star hotels, condos, and even multi-million dollar condos. As long as you have blood, they don’t discriminate.”

He said the city is not ready for the havoc to come. A report on bed bugs, funded by the city and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care, released this week noted a dramatic 1,500 reports of bed bug infestations to Toronto Public Health between March, 2008 to October, 2008. There were 46 reports in 2003, the first time complaints of bed bugs were recorded.

Mr. Meagher said the resilient pests are normally nocturnal and found strictly in residential areas, but the study revealed that the severity of infestations in homes is leading to “transfer points” as the overcrowded, blood-thirsty bugs latch on to people’s clothing or personal items to get to offices, public transit and schools as destinations for food.

Toronto has recorded incidents of bed bugs in offices, and will join the ranks of other cities in the world that have had bed bug encounters in public institutions if the infestations aren’t stopped, Mr. Meagher said.

Maciej Ceglowski, based in Romania, says he was traumatized from a San Francisco hotel room laden with bed bugs, started the online registry, so travellers and renters had a resource when researching a neighbourhood.

He said Toronto and Vancouver users log the most bed bug infestation reports. A Willowdale building, 1 Homewood Ave., is the second-most reported address in all of North America, Mr. Ceglowski said.

Most of the complaints come from the city’s downtown core. Buildings on Isabella Street, Wellesley Street East, Sherbourne Street and Danforth Avenue received multiple complaints, he said.

“From my experience, whenever there’s two of three reports from one building, you know there’s something really going on,” he said.

“Whatever’s going on in Toronto is getting rapidly worse. It’s got my attention that there’s no good news coming out of Toronto,” said Mr. Ceglowski, who has never visited the city.

For Parkdale resident Joanne Knutson, fighting the little bugs meant a pricetag of over $1,000, throwing out her mattress last year, and fumigating her home last month in two cases of potential bed bug problems.

“There was such an incredible amount of stress associated with it because the more you learn how crafty they are, the more you get a sense that you will never get rid of them,” Ms. Knutson said.

She suspects a friend brought the insects to her home when she threw a suitcase onto a bed last year. Months ago, her family members noticed bite marks on their arms, and feared the bed bugs returned.

“You just feel terrorized, and you just keep wondering if you got them, or if they’re just hiding,” she said.

The city’s battle against the bugs will be an uphill one because their presence sprouted quickly and will continue to spread exponentially. The stubborn five millimetre pests are difficult to locate, breed easily and are immune to some chemicals.

“You can spray toxic chemicals all over an apartment and not get rid of the infestation . . . but if you have a handful of bed bugs one year and you leave them alone, you will end up with thousands,” Mr. Meagher warned.

If they are not treated properly with a detailed inspection, intensive cleaning, spraying, steaming, and follow up inspections, victims will scatter the infestation even more, Mr. Meagher said.

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