I travelled across South East Asia for six months, bunking in cheap backpacker’s hostels and bungalows with dirt floors, and not once did I encounter the globetrotter’s worst nightmare: the dreaded bed bug.
I was warned repeatedly before my departure to watch out for the nasty insects, to check linens for the telltale brownish stains — heck, pack your own sheets many suggested — and to always inspect the mattress by lifting it up and letting it fall, watching closely to see if the small, appleseed-sized bugs scurried out.
As it turned out, the lodging was exceptionally clean across all the countries I visited and I ended up forgoing the bed bug paranoia altogether, usually preferring to plunk myself down on the bed after long travel days without any inspection at all. Scorpions, sting rays and spiders, those I encountered on the trip more than I would have liked — but bed bugs, not a one.
Apparently, the pesky pests were all back home in Canada.
We’ve been hearing a lot about them on the home front lately, and not from cooing mothers telling their little ones ‘Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bed bugs bite.’
Bed bugs are a legitimate problem here. Previously associated primarily with scummy hotel rooms and overcrowded apartments, beg bugs are now finding their way into five star hotels and townhouses. A 2013 study (admittedly commissioned by a pest control company) found that reports of bed bug infestations had risen between 20 to 50 per cent, and that the leading location for infestations is apartment buildings, followed by private homes, government offices and hospitals.
It’s not a popular topic. Pest control companies in the Okanagan are cautious to speak on the record about it for fear of business ramifications, but say bed bug related calls are becoming extremely common. Not so long ago, their only clients were low-voiced hotel keepers, but now when the phone rings, it could be a homeowner, renter or landlord. Part of the problem, one anonymous pest specialist said, is people don’t always take the situation seriously enough. Eradicating a bed bug infestation is no quick, simple, or cheap task, and unfortunately, not all landlords are as scrupulous as they should be.
Bed bugs are still something of a taboo topic, but some are speaking out about it. Just last summer, a Vernon family discovered the apartment they moved into was infested with bed bugs, and went public with their story. Recently, a City of Vernon councillor brought the issue up at a public meeting, saying he was shocked to learn from affected citizens how rampant the problem actually is.
You might expect more of a response from health authorities, but because bed bugs aren’t known to spread disease, it’s not considered a health concern. Good luck telling that to someone who can’t get to sleep because an army of bedbugs is feeding on their blood (in addition to skin irritations, infestations can also cause anxiety, stress and insomnia.)
If you aren’t feeling itchy yet, here’s another fun fact for you: As little as a dozen bed bugs can multiply into 1,000 adults in about two months — and like an obnoxious house guest, it’s not easy making them leave.
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