Bed bug epidemic bites Ridge

Be wary of used furniture, especially that left outside.

Ken Hando holds a vile with live bed bugs that he uses for training his bed bug-sniffing dog Loola Loo.

Ken Hando holds a vile with live bed bugs that he uses for training his bed bug-sniffing dog Loola Loo.

Maple Ridge is under attack from a tiny, persistent foe.

Bed bugs. And they are everywhere.

Frank Dagg lives in a rental suite at the Sunrise Apartments on 122nd Ave. in downtown Maple Ridge, and says he has had his apartment sprayed six times since April. As a result, Dagg has had to throw out his bed and blankets, and has been routinely forced out of his unit while it is sprayed.

Bed bugs range in size from near microscopic to the head of a pin, and can live and breed in the smallest of crevices. They feed on human blood and are notoriously hard to kill.

Dagg and his cousin, with whom he lives, have routinely woken up to find themselves covered in red welts – the tell-tale sign of a bed bug bite.

“It’s a total infestation and I can’t take it anymore,” Dagg said.

It’s a similar story for dozens of other residents in the building, he said.

“Had I known there was a bed bug problem, I never would have moved in.”

Making matters worse, bed bug infested furniture from the apartment building was stored for weeks in the apartment building’s parking area, where Dagg said he has seen homeless people sleeping.

“They’ve taken bed bugs all over our town,” he said.

Darrell Pilgrim, director of the Salvation Army’s Caring Place Ministries in downtown Maple Ridge, said the local homeless shelter has had an ongoing issue with bed bugs.

“There’s a bit of an epidemic going on right now throughout Maple Ridge,” he said. “We’ve always taken precautions and preventative measures, but it would be near impossible to immune, given our clientele.”

Pilgrim said the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter has been sprayed repeatedly and is in the process of replacing its bunk beds with metal ones, which won’t be as attractive to bed bugs.

Any furniture that has been infested with bed bugs needs to sealed and disposed of properly to prevent any further spread, said Peter Steinfort, owner of Care Pest and Wildlife Control.

When Steinfort started out in the pest control business in Maple Ridge in 1987, bed bugs were unheard of.

“It was around 2002, 2003 we started to get the first report of bed bugs,” he said.

By 2007, his company had created an entire bed bug division.

“Now we are getting calls daily about bed bugs,” Steinfort said.

He warned against buying used furniture or bringing anything found at the side of the road into your home.

“If it’s on the side of the road, it’s probably there for a reason,” he said. “I would always assume it’s infested.”

Ken Hando and Sheree Swindle operate Bed Bug Mutts, a Maple Ridge-based bed bug detection service that uses a specially-trained dog to sniff out the pests.

Their black lab, Loola Loo, is methodical in her approach, said Hando, and will do a quick perimeter search before diving under mattresses and couch cushions to find the tiny invaders.

Bed bugs like environmental conditions similar to humans, especially dark, humid areas, and can be found just about anywhere where there are people. They are nocturnal and attracted to body heat and exhaled carbon dioxide.

“As long as there have been humans, there have been bed bugs,” said Hando.

Central heating has been a big factor in their growth and spread in recent years, said Swindle.

“We’ve perfected the perfect environment for bed bugs,” she said.

Another factor in the recent resurgence of bed bugs likely has to do with the ban of certain pesticides that once kept their populations in check, according to Hando.

The pesticide DDT was used widely in the 1940s and 1950s to help eradicate insect-borne diseases such as malaria and typhus, before it was banned after being deemed harmful to the environment and humans in the early 1970s.

While bed bugs were never a major intended target of DDT spraying, the pesticide was effective at killing bed bugs.

“They were a sidekill, so they declined and disappeared. But now they’re back,” said Hando. “We’re behind the curve now, and it’s a problem that’s not going away.

“It’s a perfect storm-type situation.”

One of the best defenses against bed bugs is education, said Steinfort.

Tell-tale signs of bed bugs are dark brown or black fecal staining on mattresses, blood staining on sheets, and dead bed bugs themselves.

To kill bed bugs, there are a variety of chemical, and non-chemical solutions available.

Steinfort said a new method called thermal remediation has proven to be particularly effective, and involves no chemicals.

“The thermal death point of bed bugs is 122 Fahrenheit [50C],” he said. “So we basically turn the unit into one big oven.”

The apartment is sealed and heaters placed throughout to heat kill off any bed bugs.

“Its important to make sure everything is above [50 C], including the inside of couch cushions and mattresses,” said Steinfort. “It’s definitely a challenging pest, but with proper education, they can definitely be controlled.”