Bedbugs in the Workplace

Bedbugs in the Workplace

February 18, 2020

Dr. Murray Isman, Professor and Dean Emeritus, is an entomologist with the Faculty of Land and Food System. He is currently working as an independent consultant for Public Services and Procurement Canada.

When did you become an expert on bedbugs?

While I had spent most of my career researching agricultural pests and problems, and had done little research on public health pests, about ten years ago I was approached by two companies about doing research on bedbugs and healthcare, which led to several years of collaboration.

What is the bedbug situation that the federal government is dealing with and how did you get involved?

I was approached in October 2019 by Public Services and Procurement Canada, when they informed me that they had discovered bed bugs in the offices of nine federal government buildings in Ottawa, ON. Right away I thought this was an interesting situation, as bed bugs are more typically found in places like social housing and dormitories.

I was brought on as an independent consultant, and I have provided guidance on their pest management plan and communications strategy.

How did the bedbugs get into the offices? How are they surviving?

My best guess is that employees may have brought the bugs into the office from their home or travels, or they were likewise inadvertently brought in by clients. They are very good hitchhikers – able to travel with us in our bags or luggage.

Adults can also live a long time without a meal, so they could survive even in a low-traffic office environment. Once they get hungry enough, they will venture out in the daytime. If you’re lying down on a sofa in a lunchroom, or sitting at your desk and not moving very much, bedbugs will have access to a decent blood meal.

After a meal, an adult bedbug becomes engorged and sluggish, and can’t travel very far to find a safe place to digest. In an office environment, they might seek shelter in between cubicle walls. This makes complete eradication difficult, since they can hide in tiny cracks or holes for long periods of time.

Realistically, our goal is to manage them to the point where someone sees one-bug-a-month kind of thing.

What’s behind the recent resurgence of bedbugs?

During the 1950s, the bedbug population declined over most of North America, due to a combination of better housing conditions and pesticides. But since 2000, we’ve seen an explosion in reported sightings. This may be due to a number of factors, such as increased travel or resistance to pesticides.

To learn more about Dr. Isman’s research into bedbugs, you can check out his research paper here.