Don’t let the bedbugs bite

September 1, 2010

Guelph Mercury, 10/09/01 bedbug

Buh-buh-buh-bedbugs? Say it ain’t so!

Across North America, it’s the Summer of the Bedbug, and people are losing it.

Never mind that we’ve got an economy that dips and swings like a drunk, new oil spills every week and relentless, scorching heat – what really scares us is a few, tiny blood-sucking pests.

Bedbugs are not a new story, but the panic over these insects seems to be reaching its most hyperventilated levels yet. Bedbugs have been on the rise since the 1990s, with some suggestions their populations have been doubling every year in places like London.

Plenty of North American cities, including Guelph, have battled the bugs. In Hamilton, the public health unit has reported its rate of bedbugs found feeding on people and pets has doubled in a year.

We wail, and scream, and yet they’re still here. New York is up to its neck in them right now, with reported incidents up from 500 in 2004 to 10,000 last year. People are actually launching lawsuits over bedbugs. It got so bad the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held a national summit on the pests. Yep.

News shows have trotted out shrinks claiming bedbugs can lead to clinical depression, social anxiety, and alienation. Bedbugologists worry children will suffer because mothers won’t let their kids play with children who have ‘em.

This is the world that we live in today: A moviegoer at a theatre in Toronto reported this week on Twitter that she had been bitten by bedbugs while taking in a show. Didn’t matter if she had or hadn’t – people freaked.

The 38-year-old woman said she’d woken up later that night with bites on her body. She was convinced the bugs came from the movie theatre. Could they have come from her own, err, bed? That’s preposterous, she said.

On the eve of the Toronto International Festival, people started shrieking that the theatre, which would be a hub during the fest, was “infested” and “threatening” the entire festival itself.

A pest control company was brought in and found no bedbugs. Turns out, no one else has complained about being bitten, either. Panic subsided. People caught their breath. For the moment. Until they strike again!

When it comes to pests, bedbugs are on the lower end of the harm scale. They don’t spread disease and about half of the people they bite don’t show any sign they’ve been bitten.

“The bugs have probably been biting our ancestors since they moved from trees to caves,” The New York Times wrote this week, in an effort to bring some perspective on the matter.

That means we’ve been dealing with them for a long, long time. Not that it matters in our modern world.

I have a feeling if our great grandparents heard all this commotion, they would have probably shrugged their shoulders. Bedbugs were common in most homes before the Second World War, and were dealt with as a nuisance as normal as mosquitoes. Kind of hard to be scared of something that can be killed with a flat shoe.

Back then, they’d just strip their beds, boil their sheets, and get on with their lives. In 2010, we demand compensation on Twitter, call our psychiatrist and shiver in fear.

We’ve gone soft. We get all bugged out by little bugs.

Greg Mercer is a Guelph-based writer. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at, and past columns can be read at

One Response to Don’t let the bedbugs bite

  1. Christine Johns on September 1, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Hi Greg,

    I agree there are worse societal scourages than bed bugs but I would not minimize the impact of this new wave of bed bugs just yet. An out of control polulation of bed bugs leads to extreme sleep deprivation, constant itchy welts and even anemia (references provided if you wish – including research that HIV is found live in bedbugs up to one hour after they feed on an infected individual).

    Much has changed since Gramma dealt with bed bugs. My father was born in 1928 and his mother in 1880. He recalls rarely his mother would discover bed bugs and scour the house with chemicals which are now off the market as toxic poisons. Also, bed bugs were exterminated each winter as they had only a wood stove and the entire structure and its contents were periodically plunged to temperatures below -15C.

    There were no apolstered public transit systems and they never met anyone who had stayed in a hotel or motel. Few public reservoires of bed bugs meant less chance of reinfestation after the winter freeze.

    Now our social housing complexes, apartment buildings, condos, hotels, buses, theatres and hospitals are kept at uniform temperatures and there is no known chemical which is both safe for humans and effective against bed bugs. The global reservoire of these critters is rising exponentially and our lifestyles promote their increase. Grammas lifestyle meant their periodic natural control.
    Wait 5 years …you may be reporting we have not been paranoid or vigilant enough against bed bugs. (House spiders on the other hand, ought to be encouraged)

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