Thank environmentalists for a growing bed bug plague in Toronto and elsewhere, a senior city health official told the Sun.
“We’re seeing an increase in bedbugs in the First World,” Reg Ayre, the healthy environments manager, said Monday. “It used to be a Third World problem.”
Then came chemical bans designed for a healthier world.
Developing countries used DDT in the 1940s and 1950s to control the little bugs who drill into their human host sucking blood to breed. They prefer warm beds to lie in wait for often unsuspecting hosts.
But bans of the synthetic pesticide and other toxic chemicals that proved harmful to humans, wildlife and plants, resulted in an explosion in developing countries by the mid-1990s.
Toronto health officials had 147 requests for help four years ago, especially for multi-unit dwellings such as apartments, student residents and hotels.
In 2009, Ayre said, the Toronto Bed Bug Project — a multi-agency city initiative launched two years ago to increase public awareness and help people prevent infestations — had 1,565 requests, up more than 250 from 2008.
By July 31, this year’s calls for assistance already totalled 1,076, he said.
But while a U.S. pharmaceutical firm last month labelled Toronto as the third-worst of 10 North American cities it surveyed for bed bugs, “Toronto is no different from any other large cities,” Ayre said.
“They’re wrestling with them in Australia, Great Britain, Europe and other countries…that once had strong residual pesticide usage,” he said.
“People may say they want to bring back DDT,” but Ayre said the flat reddish bugs “built up a resistance.”
Synthetic pyrethins developed from Chrysanthemums are permitted, but can harm humans plus pets, and often require repeated applications.
“The big problem with bed bugs is you have to hit them on the head to kill them,” Ayre said. “They are extremely resilient.”
Prof. Jeff Dawson, a Carlton University biologist, said “their nastiness comes in psychological warfare.
“The thought of you being bitten at night will keep you awake at night,” he said from Ottawa.
With limited resources, the agencies don’t intervene, but Toronto Public Health’s expanded website has numerous tips for tenants, landlords, exterminators and people visiting infested homes: toronto.ca/health/bedbugs/index.htm.
For the most at-risk people — including fragile seniors and mentally infirm residents — Ayre said the project’s Shelter Support Housing partner will send a “non-judgemental” scrub team.