Hamilton·Point of View

Staying sane with bedbugs

One woman recounts the struggles to help her mother cope with a bed bug infestation and her recommendations for a better system to help people.

One woman's bed bugs story

Bed bugs, cockroaches and mould are among the tenant problems leading to a call for the licensing of landlords in Ottawa.

This is a letter to the Board of Health from Nikola Wojewoda-Patti, Ward 1 

Administrative Assistant, BBAG member

Dear Members of the Board of Health,

Over the years, many distraught people battling bed bugs have called the Ward 1 office. Although genuinely sympathetic, I didn’t fully appreciate their trauma -until it happened to my Mother. I can honestly say it is one of the most physically and emotionally stressful life experiences.

My mother had recently moved to a lovely, brand new building. In the summer of 2010 she showed me strange bites on her arm and leg. A walk-in clinic doctor didn’t recognize them. Google identified them as bed bug bites. We were in shock - her newly furnished apartment was clean and neat. Even though she understood that it’s ‘no one’s fault and could happen to anyone’, my mother felt terribly ashamed and deeply distressed. The one place that was supposed to be her refuge and place of rest – was the only place she was  attacked every night.

It was a place of torment. 

We immediately told the Superintendent, who asked us not to say anything to anyone, because he didn’t want to spread panic. The next day their PCO inspector did a cursory look around the bed and determined there were no bugs, despite evidence of the bites. 

It was extremely fortunate that before he left I looked through the folds of the bedroom curtain and captured one on scotch tape. A treatment was scheduled in two weeks. 

That night I did some research, and realized the full extent of what was ahead of us. It was clear that ‘preparing the apartment’ was not what most of us equate with a pesticide  treatment. This needed to be much more thorough. There was no way my mother would be able to tackle this alone.

So, we began the process of dismantling her life. 

Infestation is 'no one's fault'

Every single item in that apartment was wiped down with hot water and packed away into sealed plastic bags or bins; clocks, lamps, shoes, mementos, electronics, paintings. All her books were sealed up for an anticipated 2 years. We began the exhausting process of laundering everything, putting washed items into new, tightly sealed bags now marked ‘Clean’, not to be opened. Every switch plate was removed, furniture pulled from walls, drawers removed, items turned upside down and inside out - to make every crack and crevice accessible to a pesticide treatment – that would leave a terrible mess, and reportedly was not entirely effective. We then vacuumed daily, while waiting another 2 weeks for eggs to hatch and the second treatment. The process took over 4 weeks.

It was overwhelming, expensive, exhausting, and completely necessary - not because ‘they’ were everywhere, but because even one egg-carrying female left behind would mean a rapid re-infestation. 

During this time, I realized that ‘secrecy’ was an ally of the bed bug. I asked the landlord to set up a Public Health Education Session for all the tenants. It was explained that an infestation was no one’s fault, and fast action was in everyone’s best interest. It was after this session that three other tenants disclosed – including the neighbour beside her, who had been living with an infestation for many, many months. 

Her treatment was successful - because we acted fast, everyone came forward, and the infrastructure was new. Since then, other tenants have had infestations, including my mother, again, two years later. It was disheartening news. Even though the tenants and the landlord now know what to do, dealing with bed bugs will always be stressful, and a challenge. They are not going away.

Through work, I’ve talked to many people that don’t have practical, or even correct information. Many don’t have the capacity, stamina, or real life support they desperately need to sustain a bed bug battle. This is one of the main roots of the problem. We have a vulnerable population who have nowhere to go for actual help inside their homes. Re-infestations are common, and bed bugs continue to move from home to home, decimating multi-residential buildings - and people’s lives. 

We need a sound Bed Bug Strategy that includes all parties; education for individual homeowners, tenants, landlords and pesticide companies, real assistance for the vulnerable, and the recognition and financial support from all levels of government. 

Bed bugs are hard to control, but not impossible.

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