By Liz Delahey, Home Economist
Updated in June 2015 by the Manitoba Association of Home Economists
Bed bugs were fairly common pests in the 1900s but after the Second World War use of insecticides and better spraying techniques seemed to eliminate them. However in recent years they’ve shown up in homeless shelters, hostels, dormitories, prisons, hospitals and five star hotels. Cases reported in south western British Columbia grew by 600 percent between 2003 and 2005.
Authorities suggest the resurgence is linked to changes in pest control practices as well as an increase in homelessness and travel abroad. Infestation is usually associated with poor housing conditions but the pests can also travel in luggage, old furniture or emerge from the walls during renovations.
How to Identify Bed Bugs
Bed bugs are oval, flat reddish-brown crawling insects about 3/8 of an inch (5-7 mm) long. Bed bugs are small, brown insects – about the size of an apple seed at adult stage. After a feeding, they swell in size and can become bright or dark red. They hide during the day and come out at night in areas where people sleep. Because they cannot fly they must either crawl or be transported on clothing, bed linens or in luggage. The female lays eggs, which are covered, in a gummy substance that sticks firmly to the mattress. They go through five stages and each stage requires a meal of blood. The bugs are most active at night. People bitten say it feels much like being bitten by a mosquito. It may result in a small itchy bump. While bed bugs do not spread disease the irritation of a bite may cause some people to experience sleeplessness, lack of energy or lethargy. They can survive up to a year without feeding.
Signs of Bed Bug Infestation
- Dark spotting and staining on sheets, mattress pillows and clothing from their excrement or blood from crushed insects.
- Molted skins, excrement and egg shells where the insects hide in mattress crevices or furniture.
- An offensive sweet, musty odour from their scent glands if there is a large infestation.
Checking for Bed Bugs
- Inspect bedroom furniture especially mattresses and box springs.
- Check under chairs, couches and dressers.
- Pull out drawers and check under bedroom lamps.
- Check cracks along baseboards, behind paintings and pictures.
How to Prevent Bed Bugs From Entering Your Home
- Inspect your luggage and clothing after trips to Asia, South and Central America, Africa and Europe
- Vacuum your mattress regularly.
- Remove clutter to reduce hiding places for bed bugs.
- Inspect second hand furniture before bringing it home.
- Repair cracks in exterior of your home and install screens to prevent birds or rodents serving as bed bug hosts inside your home.
How to Get Rid of Bed Bugs
- Wash bedding and clothing in hot water with detergent.
- Vacuum bed, box spring and mattress often using strong suction.
- Use a scrub brush to remove eggs and bugs from the seams and crevices in the mattress.
- Place stuffed toys in the dryer for 30 to 45 minutes
- Freezing clothing and bedding may slow down bedbugs, but will not kill them.
- Choose a product specifically recommended for bed bugs and follow directions carefully.
- Hire a professional pest control company for a major infestation or if you live in a multi-unit building. More than one treatment may be required.
Who is responsible for bed bug control? (In Manitoba – from the Government of Manitoba: Bed Bugs website)
- If you own your own home, you are responsible for getting rid of bed bugs.
- If you rent, the landlord must take care of an infestation of bed bugs. In order to get rid of bed bugs, the landlord and tenant must work together. The landlord will arrange for an exterminator and tell the tenant when the exterminator is coming and how to prepare the rental unit for extermination. It is very important that tenants follow the landlord’s instructions on how to prepare their unit before and after the treatment. Tenants must allow the exterminator into their rental unit to complete the extermination.
- Renters concerned about bed bugs can call 1-855-3MB-BUGS (1-855-362-2847) or email
- The Pest Hotline will provide information over the phone about bed bug identification and what is needed to treat the infestation and prevent it from coming back.
- If necessary, the Inspector will conduct a site visit (determined on a case by case basis).
- The Inspector may contact landlords, building management and pest control professionals to ensure proper treatment is taking place.
- In severe infestations, Public Health Inspectors may contact external agencies to help clients with special needs get the necessary assistance to properly clean, de-clutter and prepare the unit for treatment.
- If it becomes necessary, the Public Health Inspector may issue a legal notice or Health Hazard Order under The Public Health Actto ensure clean-up and pest control treatment is completed.
British Columbia Ministry of Health, BC Health Files
University of Toronto Public Affairs
Government of Manitoba website: Bed Bugs