Residents at a Thunder Bay public housing building dealing with a bedbug infestation say sending in fumigators to individual apartments at the Royal Edward Arms is not enough.

In the five months since the bugs first appeared in Anne Cataford’s apartment, the District of Thunder Bay Social Services Administration Board (DSSAB) has sent pest control to spray her apartment twice.

But the bugs are back — and other tenants say they have them too.

Cataford said it's time for a bigger response.

"They need to fumigate every single piece of this building," she said. "Every apartment, the carpets in the hallway..."

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Anne Cataford's arm is riddled with bedbug bites. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

DSSAB's acting director of client services said there have been four or five bedbug complaints from the building over the last month.

Terry Flaherty said the board responds to every complaint quickly and urged tenants to tell their property manager if bedbugs reappear.  

"If the issues ... persist we need to know about it so we can beef up activity with the pest control company," he said. 

Quick action required

Cataford has lived at the May Street building for the last six years. She said bedbugs only started to appear earlier this year -- and the infestation is taking a toll.

"Physically and emotionally I'm not doing very good," she said, pointing to the bedbug bites on her arms, stomach and face.

"I don't get much sleep in the first place, but when the itching comes on, it's hard."

Cataford, who is on Ontario Disability Support, said she has applied for a housing transfer because of the bedbug problem.  She added she won’t throw out her bed and buy a new one until she has a new place to move into without bedbugs. 

Dealing with the infestation has also been an isolating experience for the woman.

Suspect bedbugs?

The Thunder Bay District Health Unit urges tenants suspecting they have bedbugs in their units to notify their landlord immediately, so pest control spraying can start before the problem spreads.

Tenants should also report it to the district's Environmental Health department at 807-625-5900.

"Sometimes I don't feel good going out because of (the bedbugs) biting on my face," Cataford said.

She added the problem also affects her family. "My daughter won't even bring my granddaughter here to visit because of this situation … because of the bedbugs." 

A senior public health inspector at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit said dealing with bedbugs requires quick action by both tenants and landlords.

"The tenant makes the landlord aware (of the bedbug problem) and cleans as much as possible," Abby Mackie said.

"And then the landlord can bring in a pest control operator.  And then we can see success with that."

Flaherty said the Social Services board "encourage(s) any tenant that suspects there may be a problem in their unit or in the hallway of their building to call their property manager right away and we'll make sure that we attend to it."

He added the board, in consultation with the pest control experts, can "certainly investigate" whether they need to take more action throughout the Royal Edward Arms building.

Mackie said the pest control contractor can advise tenants whether or not their furniture — including beds — can be treated for bedbugs or if it needs to be thrown out. Public Health recommends getting rid of the furniture if it can't be treated.

If low-income tenants need to dispose of their furniture, social assistance workers can advocate for them to get funding to replace it, Flaherty noted.