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Watching the Watchdog: Confession of a Bedbug Host

07/15/2013 10:52 EDT | Updated 09/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Tim Knight writes the regular media column, Watching the Watchdog, for HuffPost Canada.

In the past few weeks I've made some serious confessions in this Watchdog column.

I confessed that I've grown and smoked marijuana, really like what it does to sooth a troubled mind, and offered tips on how you can grow your own dope on your own balcony.

I confessed to an affair with a call girl and, before she eventually decided marriage was a better bet, edited her somewhat-embellished but extremely sexy memoirs.

Now, I make the most difficult confession of all. It comes close to the top under the heading of "Things You Should Never Tell Anyone."

Here I go.

My name's Tim... and I've had bedbugs.

Yes, bedbugs.

There.

I've said it.

I've spoken the unspeakable.

I've broken the code that says you never ever tell anyone you have or have had bedbugs because only really dirty people get bedbugs and it serves them right because bedbugs are revolting, repulsive, disgusting, foul, vomitous and gross, just like really dirty people who have them.

No decent person ever admits to having bedbugs.

Which makes my bedbug confession right up there with confessing that I've had AIDS, which I haven't.

Or that I'm impotent, which I'm not.

Or that I once voted for Stephen Harper, which I didn't.

My introduction to Cimex lectularius happened 16 months ago.

It was hell.

You don't really want to know every sordid detail, so here's a précis.

I wake in my rented apartment. Something nasty, small, dark brown and buggy stares at me from the other pillow. I capture it in an empty pill bottle, check the Internet, identify the nasty as a bedbug, hoist my mattress, watch in horror as scores of the nasty's friends and relatives scramble for darkness.

I call the building manager who implies I'm a dirty person who deliberately invited the bedbugs in.

She slides a list of orders under my door. Apparently, I have to obey them before the exterminator will come in and kill my little bloodsuckers.

I do what I'm told. Vacuum the apartment three times, and then again. Daughter and son-in-law gallop to my rescue. Much washing of clothes in hottest water possible, then sealing them in plastic bags. Almost new queen-size mattress, box spring, bed frame and assorted clothes, covered in plastic and marked BEDBUGS, dumped in garbage. Quilt and all remaining clothes in my bedroom sent to dry cleaner. Something like $600 down the drain. Daughter, son, son-in-law, and ex-wife all contribute money to buy new bed.

Total cost of entertaining Cimex lectularius -- more than $1,500.

Not counted in the cost are the nights when I tossed and turned because armies of nasty, small, dark brown and buggy insects were secretly sucking the blood from my aging body....

I make this confession to warn you that we Canadians are living through a major plague.

A plague that's whispered about but almost never admitted.

A plague that dare not speak its name.

We have to break that silence. If we don't, the bloodsucking insects will doubtless take over every apartment, house, building and hotel in the country.

I live in Toronto where the Toronto Public Health site is most reliable when it comes to bedbugs and how to find and kill them. But it's bureaucratically cautious about the extent of the plague.

Here's its much-less-than-dramatic warning: "Over the last couple of years, Toronto Public Health has received an increase in calls regarding bed bugs."

A private website called the Bedbug Registry is less cautious. It claims that a couple of years ago Toronto was the bedbug capital of Canada. Seems we had 2,270 bedbug reports. Vancouver came next with just over 2,000.

The Registry recommends Bedbugger.com as the best all-round website on bedbugs. There you can find addresses of buildings where bedbugs have been reported anywhere in Canada.

The trouble is that bedbugs are officially regarded as pests, not communicable diseases. So they don't have to be reported to the authorities. Which means the actual infestation numbers are certainly far higher than even the Bedbug Registry reports.

Here now some guidelines, learned the hard way, for you -- yes you -- to fight the bedbug invasion.

  • Check for bed bugs regularly. Doesn't matter if you live in Rosedale (the butler can check for you) or Parkdale. The bugs are no respecter of wealth or status.
  • If you own a house or condo, you're responsible for calling in and paying the exterminator. Make sure you use a properly qualified company.
  • If you rent, the landlord has to pay the exterminator. Landlords hate admitting there's bedbugs in one of their buildings. Bad for business. So they try to keep everything secret, along the lines of "please don't mention this to other tenants." Wrong. Bedbugs are incredibly mobile which means every tenant should be informed so they can protect themselves. If the landlord won't put up a notice warning all tenants that an apartment in the building is infested, do it yourself. Like I did.

My relationship with Cimex lectularius happened 16 months ago and there's been no sign of the little horrors since.

How do I know?

I put strips of extremely sticky double-sided carpet tape on the floor on the two sides of my bed next to the walls. Any insect walking on them is trapped.

Even more important, I bought four small plastic bowls from my hardware store, half filled them with slippery talcum powder, and put a bowl under each foot of my bed. The bowls are specially made so bedbugs can climb or fall into them but can't climb out.

I check the tape and bowls every morning. And under the mattress once a week.

Nothing.

I plan to keep the tape and the bowls under my bed for the rest of my life. You should too. Whether you've ever had bedbugs or not.

The irony of all this is that today my bed is one of the safest in all Canada.

I wonder if this means my sadly dormant sex life will improve.

So much for my latest confession.

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