Summit hopes to turn the battle against bedbugs
TORONTO - An Ontario politician is hoping Wednesday's bedbug summit in Toronto will lead to a Canada-wide co-ordinated effort to stamp out the resurgent pest.
Bedbugs have made a dramatic and creepy comeback in this country, experts say, crawling into homes, hotels and hospitals in search of their favourite meal -- human blood.
Eliminating the bugs can cost thousands of dollars.
Michael Colle, the member of provincial parliament who organized the summit, wants to see a national health strategy or co-operative effort to battle the "blood-sucking pests."
He points out the tiny insects are quick to hitch a ride on unwary travellers, and don't respect borders.
"People are travelling in and out of airports, across provincial boundaries constantly in Canada," said Colle.
"So there has to be some sort of co-ordinated national approach to this, whether it be information, standards -- especially in terms of chemical usages," he said.
He said people need to know which chemicals are safe and effective. Previously effective chemicals have been banned, leaving the pest control industry with weaker weapons to fight a growing problem.
Colle said baseline scientific research is needed to determine where bedbugs are concentrated. That's where government can play a role.
Since plans for the one-day summit were announced, he said, some informal steps towards that co-ordination have been taken. Public health authorities are taking note of the issue and discussing it with their counterparts across the country.
Health units haven't been tracking infestations because bedbugs don't transmit infectious diseases. But scratching the itchy, red bumps they leave can lead to skin infections.
Fear of the bugs feasting at night keeps people from sleeping and the emotional toll can be debilitating, Colle said.
Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Edmonton and Regina have all reported problems with bedbugs this year.
With the growing interest in the bugs, Colle had to turn away almost 100 people who wanted to register for the summit.
"It's a full house," he said of the gathering being held across the street from the Ontario legislature.
About 120 people will hear from experts as well as those who've found their homes or businesses infested with the apple-seed-sized pests.
The summit is drawing representatives from Health Canada's pest management division, Canada Border Services, various public health units and other stakeholders.
Several Ontario cabinet ministers will attend, as well as Ontario's associate chief medical officer of health.
Other participants include the Canadian Mental Health Association, legal clinics and even an executive furniture rental company.
"It's a good opportunity for people to really share information," said Colle, who hopes it will spur politicians to action.
"They've never gotten together in a room before, certainly in Canada, so it's the first of its kind," he said.
"I think there's got to be more of these things where people can come together and look for solutions and get up to speed and best practices," he said.
While he's not sure if any real live bedbugs will be on display, a bedbug sniffing dog and a representative from a company that sells bedbug-proof mattress covers will be at the summit.
A female bedbug can lay 200 to 400 eggs during its one-year life span.
Vacuuming, steaming, thermal heat and pesticides are used to get rid of bedbugs that can lurk in walls, behind baseboards and in mattresses and other furniture.
Pleased by the response to the summit, Colle's office is accepting written submissions on the problem until Oct. 15. He plans to post a summary of the summit's recommendations online.