Toronto Public Health will host its first conference on bed bugs on Monday in an effort to get a handle on the growing creepy-crawly problem.

Health experts, pest control operators and landlords will attend the conference at Metro Hall, but the event is not open to the public.

The city agency says it now receives about 800 phone calls a year reporting bed bug infestations, a sharp increase from about 150 only a few years ago.

The insects, which survive by sucking human blood while their hosts sleep, have targeted homes, apartments, condos, hotels and shelters, officials say.

"Five years ago bed bugs made up one per cent my business," says Art Bossio, who runs Advantage Pest Control. "About 20 per cent of my total business is now bed bug control."

Coun. Paula Fletcher, who sits on Toronto's board of health, says the first step to controlling the problem is finding out just how big the problem is.

"Toronto Public Health is taking a lead and bringing all the agencies, landlords and pest control operators together," Fletcher said.

Experts say bed bugs have been a growing problem in urban areas throughout the world. They believe a major factor is the insecticide that used to kill the insects, DDT, is now illegal and has been banned from use.

Newer products aren't proving to be as effective. Exterminators also blame the problem on increased human travel (which transports the tiny critters) and lack of public awareness.

The bugs can be wiped out with proper treatment, cleaning and follow-ups, but the solution can be expensive, and there is no assistance or funding for those in Toronto who have a bed bug problem. The topic is on the agenda at Monday's meeting.

"The problem becomes people that just don't have the wherewithal to get at them and then they reoccur and perhaps spread through a building," Fletcher said.

One of the things the city will do at the conference is look at how other municipalities tackle the problem. Hamilton, for example, uses its pesticide bylaw to inspect all hotels, motels and rental units if a complaint is made.

Toronto Public Health has recommended the city's medical officer of health release a report on the progress of the committee in six months.

Click here for more information on bed bugs, including how to get rid of the pests.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Naomi Parness