Put your pests to the 'crunch test': Beware of bedbugs, exterminator warns

The city is crawling with an influx of bedbug infestations, warns an Edmonton-based exterminator who says he is "knee-deep" in the pests.

'For every one case that I fix there are another 10 out there that don't know they have it'

Bedbugs are seen in a container from the lab at the National Pest Management Association, during the National Bedbug Summit in Washington in 2011. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

The city is crawling with an influx of bedbug infestations, says one Edmonton-based exterminator who is "knee-deep" in the creepy crawlies.

Derek Chester, owner of Responders Pest Control, said he can barely keep up with the volume of calls to his office.

In the past two weeks, he has had to bring in extra staff from company offices outside Alberta in an attempt to meet the demand.

'Bedbugs reproduce exponentially'

Periodic surges like this are common with bedbug infestations, said Chester, who wants to warn Edmontonians to keep watch for signs of the blood-suckers.

There are often increases in infestations after family holidays or when school gets back in session, he said. 

"Usually about every six months I find there is a significant jump in bedbugs," Chester said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "It's just because bedbugs reproduce exponentially.

"For every one case that I fix, there are another 10 out there that don't know they have it."

No marked increase, says AHS

The most recent data from Alberta Health Services shows that during the 2016/17 fiscal year there were 254 housing inspections with bedbugs specifically cited as an issue, fewer than the 363 instances reported in the previous year.  

AHS environmental public health staff investigate bedbug infested properties on a complaint basis, and officers have "not seen a marked increase in reports, but bedbugs remain a pest that we are contacted about," spokesperson Kirsten Goruk said Tuesday in a statement.

The most recent outbreak in Edmonton temporarily closed down the University of Alberta's Rutherford Library North building last week.

That news came as no surprise to Chester.

High-traffic public places such as libraries, health clinics and shopping malls, where crowds mingle in closed quarters, are the most vulnerable to infestations, he said.

In Edmonton, a large number of his calls come from buildings and apartments near universities and colleges.

"[They] tend to be bigger hot spots," Chester said. "And I look at a map and I see how many jobs I do around universities and colleges, it's pretty significant. And it's because people coming in and coming out.

"If one person that goes to university has bedbugs, they could potentially be spreading that to three or four other people."

Rutherford Library has since reopened and the university has said bedbugs haven't been found recently in any other buildings on campus, staff said.

The crunch test

For those concerned about a possible infestation, Chester recommend his "crunch test."

The creepy hitchhikers that feed exclusively on blood are easy to identify, but his test is not designed for the squeamish.

"If you find a bug, it's usually around the size of an apple seed," Chester said. "They're a dark brown. What gives a bedbug its colour is the fact that it's fed. And that's blood."

"If it feels like a pop, and you feel blood come out, that's your indicator right there, because there is no other bug or insect that really gives off blood."

'Knee deep in bedbugs every day'

To avoid bringing the blood-suckers home, Chester's instructions are simple. 

Check any secondhand furniture for signs of an infestation before bringing it home. Sealing cracks and crevices in apartment units can prevent bedbugs from invading through the walls.

Finally, if you feel like you may have brushed shoulders with someone who carrying the pests, ensure to wash and dry your clothes in high heat as soon as you get home.

Chester always strips off in the garage, to make sure he doesn't bring his work home with him.

"I always tell people that I'm knee deep in bedbugs every day. So two things are true. Either I have bedbugs or I take precautions to make sure I don't bring them home with me.

"In the nine years that I've been doing this, I've brought bedbugs home with me twice. And so by taking those precautions, I've made sure I've never infested my own home."

Listen to Edmonton AM with host Mark Connolly, weekday mornings at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on Twitter @EdmAMCBC