06/02/2013 08:00 EDT | Updated 08/02/2013 05:12 EDT

Bed Bugs In Alberta Seniors Homes; Officials Say No Reason For Concern

Although some disease organisms have been recovered from bed bugs under laboratory conditions, none have been shown to be transmitted by ...

CALGARY - Two seniors homes in southern Alberta are being treated for bedbugs, but health officials say there's no reason for concern beyond the "ick" factor.

Alberta Health Services confirms staff at the Pemmican Lodge and Black Rock Terrace in Lethbridge have been dealing with the itchy insects for the last few months. Exterminators have been brought in and, last week, education sessions were held for residents and staff.

While bedbugs are for the most part harmless, the stealthy insects are hard to detect and even more difficult to kill, said Lynne Navratil, supervisor of safe-built environments for Alberta Health Services.

Small, flat, oval-shaped and about the size of an apple seed, the bugs feed on the blood of people and animals.

And they have been popping up in some unusual places lately.

Four buses in Edmonton have been fumigated this year after someone reported seeing bugs, although the city says that ultimately no insects were found. There have been reports of bugs at courthouses in both Vancouver and St. John's, N.L.

Navratil said there's no doubt that bedbug infestations have become more prevalent. Public health officials deal with complaints regularly.

"When I started as a health inspector 17 years ago, we really didn't deal with bedbugs a lot. It was pretty rare," Navratil said. "It was more something that parents said at night — the old saying: 'Don't let the bedbugs bite.'"

But with the public travelling so much these days, stopping the spread is nearly impossible, she said.

Infestations have nothing to do with cleanliness, Navratil added, but they are more likely to occur when there's clutter.

"They're not attracted to dirt. They're attracted to blood — to people who they can feed off of. It's something that can happen anywhere. You can get bedbugs in a five-star hotel," she said.

"They go away during the day and they come out at night when they can feed undisturbed."

Navratil understands why people are so afraid of the tiny creatures.

"Although we don't have any cases of them transmitting disease, the idea of bedbugs is creepy and they're the cause of a lot of stress. It can cause a lack of sleep (and) it does cause an allergic reaction in a good portion of the population."

If the clutter is removed and everything is cleaned, it usually takes two treatments of heat and pesticide to remove the pests. The first kills any live bedbugs. The second is necessary for any eggs.

Alberta Health Services stressed that the length of time the Lethbridge facilities have been dealing with the bugs is not a sign of a severe infestation, but an indication of how thorough staff are being.

Navratil noted that treatment doesn't provide any kind of guarantee.

"They are very good at scurrying and they just have to go into cavities, into cracks behind wallboards, wallpaper and fire alarms and behind frames. If you don't get every crack or crevice, they are very good at moving to neighbouring rooms.

"They're very hard to kill."

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