You can't pick up a paper or turn on the television these days without coming across a story about bed bugs, a blood-sucking pest that was practically eliminated in North America through the use of pesticides but is making a resurgence in places like New York and Toronto. The bugs themselves can be found anywhere and are spread by travellers visiting places where bed bugs are still common.
The media attention has prompted some fear locally about the infestation in Whistler, said Jason Page, manager of Solutions Pest Control. He has seen a slight increase in the number of infestations over the past five years, but the media attention has resulted in a lot of false calls as well.
"It's definitely increased from five years ago, but it's been a slow and steady increase for sure," he said.
The number of calls has died down recently, but during the months of August and September when the bed bug phenomena was in the news almost daily, he noticed a spike in the number of calls.
"I think that 50 per cent were false calls, mostly from hotels where guests had woken up with welts or went home and then reacted later," he said. "Because it's in the media, the first thing in their mind is that it was bed bugs."
In many of the cases, Page said the guests had left their windows open and were likely bitten by mosquitoes or other insects, or had been bitten during the day. Hotels are extremely aggressive when it comes to bed bugs, said Page, and take every complaint seriously - so seriously that some people are falsely claiming bed bug bites to try and get free rooms or refunds.
Still, he says bed bugs infestations do happen in Whistler - and are typically reported in the fall and spring when more people are moving in and out of their homes. Some places sit empty for months and the resident bed bugs - which can go up to 18 months between meals - make up for lost time on the new tenants, which calls attention to an infestation. Usually, bed bugs will try to feed every five to 10 days.
"It's not a weather phenomenon, it seems that it's just occupancy that makes the difference (in bed bug calls)," said Page.
If people have questions about bed bugs, he says he usually refers them to a website managed in Vancouver at www.thebedbugresource.com. Information on his own site at www.pestsolutions.ca is from that source.
"You have to educate yourself," said Page. "Pest control is 50 per cent application of products and materials and 50 per cent is investigation. I like to quote G.I. Joe and tell people that 'knowing is half the battle.'"