With news of the bed bug problem in the downtown Montreal Guy-Favreau Complexe, and my own fears linked to a personal experience with bed bugs, I couldn't help but think about the impact of bed bugs in public spaces.

Just last year, Montrealers learned that there had been bed bugs found in the BaNQ and only a couple months ago we had a reader submit a photo of what they alleged was a bed bug on an STM bus

So while we think of bed bugs as critters that, well, stay in our beds, the reality is that in our increasingly connected and mobile society, bed bugs are not really a residential issue, but an urban one.

Where large communities of people live, sleep, work, and commute, there are bound to be bed bugs.

But what can we do, as citizens, when websites like the bed bug registry are no longer up to date and the pests are so hard to see or find... until it's too late?

I spoke with two exterminators in the city to get their opinion on what residents in Montreal can do to keep themselves protected and educated, as well as the implications of bed bug infestations in large public spaces that see high populations coming and going at all hours of the day.

I spoke, first, with Steve Bilodeau, from the 5-star rated exterminator company in Montreal ABC Pest Control Services. When I asked him how he felt about the lack of bed bug registries in the city for tenants, particularly those who are looking to move into a new dwelling, he was quite frank in saying that he was glad the sites were no longer updated and in use.

"There's bad information on those websites and people can write whatever they want without proof. It helps no one," he insisted. And while I was tempted to disagree with him, for the sake of renters, I couldn't help but see his point.

These registry sites don't require any proof and they do inevitably spread the stigma around bed bugs. So what can renters do?

According to Bilodeau, the answer is education.

This sentiment was shared by the second exterminator I spoke with, Don Prashker. 

Don works for ThermaPro Solutions, a company that focuses on using heat treatments, which work to simultaneously exterminate both live bugs and eggs, something chemical treatments can't do. Don also has dogs who are trained to smell the pheromones of live bed bugs, a system that is 90% accurate.

I asked Don about his experience working and treating public spaces in Montreal and he assured me he's done it all — trains, planes and automobiles — including ambulances, police cars, public buses as well as hotels, Airbnbs, and pretty much anywhere else that people frequent.

He was adamant that chemical treatments can often exacerbate the problem, as chemicals have the tendency to sequester bed bugs, leading to the frequent problem of bugs travelling from one apartment unit to another in an attempt to escape. Plus, he reminds me, chemicals won't kill the eggs, meaning exterminators are required to return after 3 months in order to exterminate the new hatchlings.

And if your skin is crawling right now, you may be suffering from entomophobia.

While we all know of arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, entomophobia speaks specifically to bugs of only 6 legs — like bed bugs.

"I've spoken with ambulance drivers who have more fear of a little bug than they do of the gruesome stuff they see all day," Don explains.

Why this seemingly excessive fear?

Well, in large part, it comes back to the stigma.

"If the pilot of an airplane finds out that somewhere in his travels he picked up a bed bug, and has now brought them home, do you think he's going to tell his co-pilot? 

"No. Of course not.

"The questions start to come up like, 'Will I be invited to the Christmas party? Are people avoiding me? People will always try to hide it.'"

This is something Steve Bilodeau confirmed as well when I asked if landlords could do more in Montreal to help mitigate this growing problem.

"Humans always create the problem. Sure, sometimes it is a bad landlord, but often it is the tenants. They don't tell the landlord right away, or they are hesitant to tell the landlord because they will be blamed..."

Bilodeau mentioned other reasons why a tenant might not call their landlord right away after finding bed bugs... things like being late on rent or having too many tenants in the unit, essentially causing them to avoid contacting their landlord because they're potentially already in trouble and this would just create more. 

So the cycle continues.

The actual cost of bed bugs is so much more than the simple extermination — which is costly if done right, and endless if done wrong.

The stigma around beg bugs comes second only to the psychological impacts you feel after having had them, something I can speak to personally. That fear of fluff is real.

In 2009, a woman named Louise Fafard killed herself by jumping out of her apartment building on rue Frontenac, after writing in her suicide note:

« Je suis certaine que les vampires sont revenus et je n'en peux plus de vivre dans la peur de me faire dévorer vivante... c'est l'enfer de sentir ces démangeaisons sur son corps. [...] Je n'en peux plus et j'ai choisi de m'enlever la vie. »

Translation: "I'm certain that the vampires are back and I cannot stand to live in fear of being eaten alive. It is hell to feel them moving around my body. I can't take it anymore and I've chosen to take my life."

Don Prashker doesn't think landlords should be responsible for exterminating bed bugs.

My knee-jerk reaction was to disagree with him and insist that the onus shouldn't be on the tenant when there's a chance the bed bugs were already there. That's what happened to me when I moved into an infamous apartment building on North Street in Halifax's North End. (I used a heat treatment company there who also has sniffer dogs — the Bed Bug Detective — and they helped me find a new place and be sure I wasn't bringing any hitchhikers, and I've been bug-free ever since.)

But that thinking goes both ways, with landlords never knowing how the bugs got in to start with, and Don is convinced that tenants would do a better job.

"Tenants are the ones sleeping in the bed, living with the bugs. Tenants aren't going to choose the exterminator with the cheapest quote just to get it over with. They want the situation actually dealt with."

Landlords, on the other hand, often do choose the cheapest option, because they aren't the ones really living with the issue.

To which I was then forced to agree, perhaps we actually would get somewhere as an urban community, if we all actually cared as much about bed bug education/prevention as we did about fire education/prevention.

After speaking with Steve and Don, I can't help but feel like I never want to leave my apartment again, and maybe never invite anyone over again, either.

It seems that bed bugs can be found in literally any public space: on airplanes and trains, buses and metros, taxis and Ubers, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, police cars and ambulances, and government buildings. These two have seen it all.

So why do we so rarely see and hear of these "public infestations," if companies are dealing with finding bed bugs so often? Well, maybe because these companies are dealing with a public reputation that causes them to deal with the issue quickly and effectively. 

Public spaces are both the victim and culprit, as they could never begin to pass legitimate blame to an individual using the space.

But individuals using the space go on to play that role, too, when they accidentally bring the bugs home with them, or to their work, or back onto the bus. 

Both Steve and Don insisted Montrealers need to be better informed and more aware, without the stigma. Accidental hitchhikers are bound to happen, so the quicker incidents are dealt with, the more effectively we can eradicate bed bugs in the city.


To learn more about Don Prashker and his bed bug-sniffing dogs, head to their website at ThermaProSolutions.com. Steve Bilodeau's pest control can be found at ExterminationABC.com.

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