An expert in bed-bug eradication says the NWT's preferred method – a four-hour heat treatment – is suitable, but is likely to need several applications and careful monitoring to work.
Six units of public housing in Fort Simpson are showing signs of bed bugs, the Northwest Territories Housing Corporation confirmed in a news release last week.
That follows months of reported issues with bed bugs in the community's housing units, including the Stanley Isaiah seniors' home. The problem was termed a "persistent bed-bug infestation" in a July email seen by Cabin Radio.
Tom Williams, president of the NWT Housing Corporation, acknowledged bed bugs have been a continuing concern in southern parts of the territory. Williams said the bugs are being tackled using a heat-treatment method administered by local housing organizations.
Previously, said Williams, the corporation relied on private pest-management companies from the south to treat infestations. However, as bed bugs must be dealt with quickly, Williams said scheduling those companies to respond rapidly became difficult.
As a result, the housing corporation decided to purchase its own equipment for each district office.
"Our technical staff are trained and they have the proper equipment in place to deal with bed bugs," he said. "It's a four-hour treatment [using] heat-sensitive equipment that we deploy in each apartment ... We come in, we clean up, we do follow-ups to make sure that the bed bugs didn't go back. It's been very effective."
Glen Abernethy, the health minister, had earlier said in a statement that eradication of bed bugs could be "challenging if the infestation is extensive or involves complex building structures."
A workshop in Fort Simpson is planned, the territory said, to help technical staff from other communities learn about getting rid of bed bugs.
While the local housing authority had questioned the value of the relatively swift treatments, a specialist in pest management said the four-hour solution works – as long as those follow-ups are in place, and as long as you're prepared to undergo multiple treatments to be sure.
Dr Changlu Wang, a researcher specializing in urban pest-management technologies at Rutgers University, said residents must make sure they leave their apartments with no bed bugs in their clothing or bags, while furniture has to be lifted.
"It's very expensive," Wang said, noting perishable materials must be sealed and removed, while flowers and pets are also concerns.
During the heat treatment, the room has to reach a certain heat. Structures with concrete walls, or open windows, can absorb heat and prevent the treatment from being effective. Baseboard areas, cracks, crevices, and walls need to either be sealed or have insecticides applied.
"The bottom line is that if you operate it well, it can [work]," Wang said. "But if you didn't monitor the temperature, and then stopped before reaching the minimum temperature, then it will fail."
Treatment can actually exacerbate the problem if not done correctly, Wang said, spreading bed bugs from the areas in which they were concentrated – usually beds and other furniture – to the entire unit.
Most important, Wang said, is monitoring. Bed-bug detectors under beds and sofa legs are normally checked two weeks after treatment.
Dr Changlu Wang. Photo: Rutgers University
"If you want to be successful, you basically continue to visit the apartment until the number of bed bugs becomes zero," he said.
"Why? Because as long as they have bed bugs, they can continue to survive and increase later."
Wang said treating seniors' complexes, as in Fort Simpson's case, is one of the most challenging environments to eliminate bed bugs. Seniors are often not able to move furniture around, Wang said, while moving residents of seniors' homes in order to accommodate treatment can be difficult.
On average, Wang said, three to six visits are needed to eliminate infestation in these environments.
Referencing a study of 358 affordable housing units in Jersey City, Wang said it took one year of an integrated pest management process by licensed staff to bring down the infestation rate from 15 to two percent.
Heat treatment is not the most common way to treat bed bugs, Wang said, as it is more time-consuming and expensive than other methods. "Usually, we would recommend a combination of non-chemical and chemical methods," he added.
In June, the Fort Simpson Housing Authority began planning to move residents from the affected units to the recreation centre to conduct treatment. In an email seen by Cabin Radio, the housing manager suggested treating the nine-plex with chemicals and moving all tenants out for one week.
Wang said he doesn't advise moving residents as this can actually spread bed bugs further. Only apartments which have bed bugs need to be treated, he added.
Plans to evacuate residents were scrapped after the local housing authority's board was dissolved and its manager fired by the housing corporation in July. Public housing in the community is now being overseen by an administrator.
Cabin Radio has reached out to the housing corporation with further questions about the heat-treatment method. This story will be updated when this information is received.