Montreal takes aim at spread of bedbugs on moving day

By Andrew Chung
In Toronto Star
Published on Saturday June 30, 2012

Every year, hundreds of Montrealers move on Canada Day.

MONTREAL—It’s like a party where everybody’s invited but nobody plays safe. July 1 might be Canada Day, but in Quebec it’s also moving day or, to paraphrase one expert, bedbug transmission day.

With so many people moving out at the same time — July 1 is when most leases start in this province — and a bedbug situation racing out of control, Montreal has put in place measures over the last year that appear to have had some success.

“We are inevitably more exposed to bedbugs simply because of the concentration of people who are moving,” said Carl Boileau, a city councillor with the opposition party Projet Montréal and a former exterminator.

“It’s the bedbug exchange period,” he explained. “When you leave a place you leave bedbugs for others. When you transport, you transport the bedbugs with you.”

As with public health policies aimed to promote safer sex, authorities have taken a similar tack in asking people to wrap their belongings in plastic as they prepare to move out.

“The advice that’s given is that when you do move, put your belongings in large plastic bags and close them up tight,” said Norman King, an epidemiologist with the Direction de la santé publique de Montréal, Montreal’s public health authority.

The city has made available 2,000 large plastic bags in which to place mattresses — especially if they are infested — to prevent the insects from falling out as they’re carried to the street.

Already in Montreal, piles of furniture are popping up on sidewalks as people abandon belongings in their moves. It’s a common sight to see others taking certain items away.

Authorities are emphasizing the danger in this practice. “If there’s one major message with this moving day, it’s don’t be tempted to pick up stuff off the street even if it looks like it’s in good shape,” King said. “You don’t know if it has bedbugs or not.”

Usually found along the seams of mattresses and in bedroom furniture, bedbugs are brownish insects that feed on human blood at night. Their bites cause itching, sleep disturbances and tremendous anxiety for the victims.

Besides these words of advice, which critics say should be turned into a public awareness campaign with dollars behind it, Montreal has in the past year enacted several other policies to battle bedbugs.

It now requires exterminators to report infestations to the city, and has put together a database to get a better idea of the problem’s scope. It has initiated a pilot project to help tenants better prepare their homes for extermination — an essential part of the process that involves, for instance, proper cleaning and storage of clothing.

The city reported Thursday that its bedbug problem appeared to be under control.

A public health survey showed that 2.8 per cent of homes, about 23,000, were infested in 2011, about the same as the year before.

“It was necessary to intervene to not lose control,” Boileau commented.

Boileau was a critic of the city for not having a plan as infestation problems skyrocketed starting in 2008.

Now, Boileau commends the administration of Mayor Gérald Tremblay for acting swiftly on the issue. “The administration has been very collaborative to recognize the problem, put experts in place, make a plan and to better manage it,” Boileau said.

Still, the new registry showed 2,800 exterminator interventions in 2011, a huge difference from the 23,000 homes affected.

Does this mean thousands of premises are not being treated? “It’s possible,” King conceded. “The data doesn’t allow us to conclude how many homes aren’t being treated.”

Boileau also denounced the 2,000 mattress bags as far too few. “It’s a joke,” he said.

And what Montreal needs, but hasn’t put money behind, is a public awareness advertising campaign, he added.

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