So that bedbug panic? It's probably just a social media thing

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In recent weeks, bedbugs have crawled their way into movie theatres, restaurants, subways — and international headlines.

The buzz around the insects even prompted the French government to vow to take action against the pests.

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But experts say the recent attention paid to the insects on social media and elsewhere — even in Canada — is likely not due to a proportional rise in bedbug infestations.

In fact, bedbugs in Canada have less to do with Paris fashion week and more to do with urbanization and globalization.

Marc Johnson is a professor of biology at the University of Toronto specializing in how organisms are affected by cities, and the Canada Research Chair for urban environmental science.

“My understanding of the current fascination … preoccupation, and maybe paranoia is largely based on a small number of influential individuals claiming that bedbugs are out of control, and they’re not more out of control than they were six months ago, a year ago, two years ago, or even five years ago,” said Johnson.

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He also added that there was likely a slight dip in infestation cases during the COVID-19 pandemic because instead of travelling, staying in hotels and picking up bedbugs, people were remaining at home.

Urbanization, however, has contributed to a growing bedbug population over the past several decades, as the insects don’t have as far to travel as far to reach fresh blood.

“This is a human pest, almost completely reliant on coexisting with humans,” said Johnson. “They feed on our blood, they use that blood meal for provisioning their young, their eggs, and then they spread when we move around. They spread in our suitcases, in our clothing, whatever we’re carrying around that they can hide within.”

Another contributing factor to the ongoing prevalence of the pests is the resistance to insecticides.

When a dwelling is treated with insecticide, (usually a pyrethroid insecticide), it attacks the nervous system of the insects and kills most of the bedbugs in the area. But if an insect has a genetic mutation that makes it less or not at all affected by the chemical, it will live on, reproduce and pass on that mutation.

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For this reason, Johnson recommends people avoid using insecticides and instead have a thorough vacuuming practice. Affected articles of clothing or bedding can be placed in the freezer or in the dryer to kill the insects. For best results, Health Canada suggests placing affected articles in a plastic bag and leaving it in the freezer for at least four days at -19 degrees Celsius. Other items can be placed in a hot dryer for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Bed bug infestations can happen to anyone but to decrease your chances of fostering an infestation, Health Canada recommends:

  • Keeping your home tidy and clean will give fewer places for the insects to hide. Vacuuming is a good deterrent to bedbugs, and don’t forget to get some of the harder-to-reach areas such as under and behind your bed.
  • Repairing any peeling wallpaper and tightening any loose outlet covers.
  • Checking any second-hand clothing or furniture before bringing it into your home.
  • Mattresses and couches on curbs are usually put outside to be picked up by waste management services, so avoid bringing them into your house.

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Originally posted 2023-10-19 15:06:43.