New housing development struggles with bed bugs, mother of three at wit’s end

Denise Titian, September 25, 2018

(Wikimedia Commons photo)

Ty Histanis, BC — 

A single mother of three thought she was in for an exciting new beginning this summer when she moved into a relatively new home and started a job as the band’s health care worker - but that all changed when she discovered the house was infested with bed bugs.

Elizabeth Manson, a Tla-o-qui-aht mother of three, moved from Nanaimo to a two-storey, four-bedroom home at Tla-o-qui-aht’s new Long Beach subdivision. The house is less than five years old.

Maon paid her damage deposit of $440 and the $880 monthly rent, which is a bargain in Tofino’s hot rental market. She knew there were some issues which were pointed out even before she moved in.

“There was broken down furniture and garbage all over the yard,” she said. Inside there were several problems, including broken or missing outlet covers, missing smoke detectors, a dying refrigerator and bag of rotting fish in an upstairs closet. Worse – there were bed bugs.

Manson said she was made aware ahead of time that the house had a bed bug infestation but was told it would be taken care of before she moved in. The first attempt, she claims, involved band maintenance workers armed with heaters. It didn’t do the trick, she said.

Manson says she has been going back and forth with the band housing manager, the band CEO and, eventually, chief and council, in an effort to eradicate the vermin.

“I have been through hell and I am trying to avoid drastic measures,” says Manson. But her family has had to leave the house and, with no resources, are couch surfing with friends and family in Nanaimo.

“I’m having a really hard time. I don’t know what to do,” said Manson, in tears.

Grace Frank lives in one of three housing complexes designated for Tla-o-qui-aht elders. There are three apartment units in each complex. She says she moved into her unit in December, 2017 and, like Manson’s rental, it needed work.

“It wasn’t finished (being fixed up) before I moved in – there were broken light switches, a hole in the wall where the towel bracket was and the carpet was stained,” said Frank. She took photos of the condition of the suite before moving in.

In late summer Frank’s neighbor’s apartment was treated for bed bugs.

“I pulled the beds from the walls and kept checking the walls and floors,” said Frank. Four days after the treatment, Frank saw something crawling on her bed. She bagged it and called the housing manager.

Frank says a neighbor’s bed bug-infested furniture was placed outside the complex and in the heat of the summer, the bugs survived. They began crawling out of the furniture and onto the exterior walls of the building.

“I became very paranoid and was tempted to up and leave everything,” said Frank. She laundered everything she could, leaving fabrics in the dryer for extra time. She slept in her recliner for four nights.

“I started bagging clothes and did endless laundry; I was storing my clothes in the bathtub because I heard that was the safest place,” said Frank.

She considered throwing out her Christmas decorations because she just didn’t want to take chances. But Frank says her home has since been treated and she is satisfied that it is clear now.

“But I wonder how many more are infested,” she said.

Tla-o-qui-aht’s housing manager could not be reached but TFN Elected Chief Moses Martin says that his council is aware of the infestation and has brought in licensed, professional exterminators to deal with the affected rental units. 

“We are trying to deal with it before it becomes an epidemic,” said Martin in a phone interview on Sept. 21.

The exterminator treated the units over the week of Sept. 9-15 and will return two weeks later for a follow-up treatment.

“I personally went on the inspection tour with some staff members last weekend (Sept. 15),” said Martin. He noted that one dead bed bug was found in Manson’s rental house.

Martin said he believes the housing units are being treated both with heat and with chemicals. He promised that he would be on the second and final inspection tour sometime over the last week of September. He said he is not sure when it will be safe for Manson to move her family back into her home, but indicated it likely won’t be until after the second inspection.

According to VIHA (Vancouver Island Health Authority), bed bugs are small, reddish-brown insects with flat, oval bodies. They are usually five to seven millimetres long. They cannot fly, but can travel quickly. Bed bug nymphs (babies) are about one to four millimetres long and yellow-white in colour.

Bed bugs feed on the blood of humans and animals. Unlike some parasites, such as fleas or lice, bed bugs do not live on their hosts, but only visit them to feed. They are most active at night and usually feed weekly. Most live for four to six months, but some may live up to a year with no food. Female bed bugs can lay about 500 eggs in their lifetime.

Bed bugs prefer to hide close to their hosts, which is why their first choice is beds. They can be found in homes, hotels, student residences and shelters. Bed bugs can hitch a ride on such things as clothing, backpacks, luggage and even books.

There is no evidence that bed bugs spread disease to people. However, public health officials remain concerned about bed bugs because scratching a bite can sometimes cause a skin infection, which can become serious. Bed bug infestations can cause significant stress, worry, and insomnia. In addition, getting rid of bed bugs can be expensive and time consuming.

Homeowners need to be vigilant after a bed bug treatment. Right after the treatment it is recommended that you check areas of your house affected by the bugs. Particularly, inspect the cracks, crevices and small spaces in them. Also check adjacent rooms because there is a chance that while implementing the bed bug treatment, a number of the bug have escaped through the baseboard and walls. Finally, do not bring bed bug-infested furniture back into the house.