By Ami Kingdon, The Ottawa Citizen January 19, 2010

Bedbug infestations are on the rise in Canada. But while awareness is growing, a lingering stigma about the pest is inhibiting treatment and educational measures

OTTAWA — There is nothing in Chris Larsen’s McLeod Street apartment to suggest uncleanliness. Her one-bedroom home, where she has lived for six years, is clean and bright, with gleaming floors and the scent of coffee.

But Larsen, 58, dealt with an infestation of bedbugs in September when she began finding bites on her ankles. “I saw something on television regarding bed bugs and where to look,” she said, “and I thought, I’m just going to take a gander. And that’s when I found them.” She makes a face as she recalls the experience. “It’s an icky, icky thing.”

Bedbugs are on the rise across Canada. While awareness is growing, a stigma about infestation inhibits treatment and effective education. But unlike other vermin, they feed on blood and are linked to high-traffic buildings such as hotels and apartments, not to dirty dwellings.

Larsen can understand the shame. “There’s people in the building who have them and are not saying anything,” she said, “and I think that happens everywhere, not just here. They’re scared.”

Jo-Anne Poirier, chief executive officer of Ottawa Community Housing, administers Larsen’s building. She said she tries to make it easier for tenants to speak up. “We’re doing more pest education with our tenants,” Poirier said. “We tell them not to feel ashamed and let us know as soon as possible if you see something.”

When Larsen saw something, she phoned OCH, where workers explained the standard procedures to get rid of bedbugs — an onerous process that would include two exterminations. “All my furniture had to be put into the middle of the room,” she said. “Everything that I had clothes-wise was to be put into bags, and washed in a very hot washer and a very hot dryer. I was told to vacuum around the perimeter of my bed every two to three days.”

Bedbugs don’t spread disease, but can really harm quality of life. “I had trouble sleeping,” said Larsen, who suffers from depression and anxiety. “Through the day, I was just kind of nervous, feeling like my privacy had been taken away, like these bugs were intruding in my apartment.” She still has no idea how she got them.

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