"It's like getting bit by a mosquito, only it lasts for over a week and is 10 times itchier," Kris Figueroa says, talking about bedbug bites. "I did my best not to scratch them, but it was almost impossible, really. My roommate scratched all over hers and now is covered in scars." The tiny blood-sucking insects were in Figueroa's Ocean Towers apartment and they're popping up all over HRM.
Alderney Manor, a Dartmouth housing complex for seniors, recently had trouble with a bedbug infestation. The Metropolitan Regional Housing Authority organized a spraying to get rid of them.
John Fleming, at the housing authority, says there were reports of bedbugs in 15 units. But the problem was so bad that the authority and Orkin decided to spray 40 units as a preventative measure. "Phase two is to go back and do a follow-up check,"says Fleming.
The housing authority's thoroughness is not without reason. Bedbugs are among the most difficult pests to get rid of, says Sean Rollo, a bedbug expert and publisher of The Bedbug Resource, an online catalogue of all things bedbug-ish.
"Basically, if you can take a business card and fit it in somewhere, that's about the width of a gap that bedbugs can get into. So if you think about all the millions of places that they could be in a home, sometimes it can be very challenging to get rid of them."
Figueroa can attest to that. He says that when he moved to Ocean Towers' Tower 3, he started seeing bedbugs within three days. His roommate got 70 bites on her legs. He complained to the building's rental office.
"They sent in Braemar to spray for our bugs about two weeks after we moved in and Braemar tore up our apartment completely. The spraying didn't help at all. We vacuumed three times a day like Braemar told us to, but we were still getting bitten."
Figueroa says that after months of failed sprayings, he stopped paying rent and found a different place to live. The management at his new building knew about the bedbugs at Ocean Towers, however, and had him fill out a form saying that if he brought bedbugs with him, he'd have to pay for extermination.
"They also told us that we had to rent a moving van and put all of our stuff in it and park this van inside a warehouse where an extermination company could use a powerful chemical to rid us finally of the bugs."
As Figueroa explains it, renting the warehouse and having Orkin exterminate ended up costing him over $1,500. Meanwhile, he says, Transglobe, the company that owns Ocean Towers, sent him an order to appear in court over unpaid rent. He counter-claimed and was awarded $2,400 by the provincial Residential Tenancies Board.
(Transglobe would neither confirm or deny Figueroa's account and Tenancies Board judgements are not public records.)
Joseph Rooney lived in Ocean Towers' Tower 1. He says that he was being bitten on his first night living there and he complained the next morning. Within two days, the apartment was being sprayed.
Despite that, Rooney doesn't live there anymore. "I didn't take it too well. I didn't stick around too long. I wasn't having that."
But why are bedbugs on the rise? Rollo says North America has seen a resurgence of bedbugs because of changing methods for exterminating cockroaches. Roaches used to be a big problem, Rollo says, and pest-control companies would kill them with a pesticide spray, which would kill most other pests in the area, including bedbugs.
"Roughly 10 or 15 years ago, the pest control industry had developed a 'bait' application for cockroaches...which is a food-based product that cockroaches come feed on." The bait product kills cockroaches, but doesn't kill bedbugs. When the pest control industry made this switch, bedbugscould flourish.
Bedbugs typically spread by hitchhiking in the belongings of travellers, says Rollo. "If you're staying in a hotel room that might have bedbugs and you leave your suitcase out, the bedbug comes from its harbourage space to its food source, which is you it inadvertently gets caught up in your things and you take it home with you."
Rollo says that bedbugs are here to stay. "They've been around for centuries and they probably always will be."