Bed bug hitches ride on Halifax bus, forcing commuter to strip down in snow

HALIFAX -- A commuter has discovered a bed bug on a city transit bus, in what an expert says is a disturbing reminder of the potential range of the hardy, hitchhiking insects.

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Jason Johnson took a photo of the bug Monday on a Halifax Transit bus - then bolted home, stripped down in the snow and put his clothes in bags, fearing they might be contaminated with the biting, blood-loving pests or their eggs.

"You feel them crawling on you when they're not there," Johnson, 37, said Wednesday.

One pest-control expert says he's surprised it doesn't happen more often. Despite their name, bed bugs aren't just found between the sheets.

John Zinck, a 20-year veteran in the extermination business, said the bugs can congregate anywhere people do: offices, movie theatres, doctor's officers and public buses. They can hitch rides on clothing, bags and items like books.

"I'm surprised it doesn't happen more often in Halifax," said Zinck, branch manager for Orkin Canada in Nova Scotia and P.E.I.

"Halifax has a fair bed bug issue and bed bugs are transferred by people carrying around things. So if you live in an apartment with bed bugs and you go on a bus ... it's very easy to transfer."

City spokeswoman Jennifer Stairs confirmed Halifax Transit was following up on a complaint of a bed bug on one of its buses. She said options could include fumigating the bus in question, adding that the vehicles are cleaned at the end of every day.

"The health and safety of our passengers and employees is always our utmost concern and priority," she said.

Public transit in other cities have also dealt with the creepy crawlers, including Toronto.

Danny Nicholson, a spokesman for the Toronto Transit Commission, said it's been a number of years since they've received any complaints. When it has happened, he said the source "would almost certainly be items brought on board a vehicle by the public."

Bed bugs are tiny, oval-shaped pests between six and 10 millimetres long when they haven't eaten. Once they've fed on blood, either animal or human, they swell in size and turn a dark red hue. Though they don't spread diseases, people allergic to a bed bug bite may end up with red, itchy bumps on their skin. Many people don't even realize they've been a bed bug's snack.

Bringing a single, male bed bug into your home might not cause much trouble, said Zinck. But one pregnant female could lead to tens of thousands of bed bugs within six months.

He said that's enough to send shivers down anyone's spine.

"You curl up in your nice, warm bed and it's a safe spot to be," he said. "Whereas when you have bed bugs, when you curl up in your bed, you're thinking, 'Oh God, how many times am I going to be bitten tonight?"'

Johnson, who killed the bus bug with a piece of newspaper and took it home for proof, posted a photo of the bug on his Facebook profile. The Museum of Natural History in Halifax confirmed the insect in the photo was a bed bug, adding that it appeared to have recently eaten.

Johnson said he didn't take any chances after his encounter and either washed his clothes in very hot water or stuffed them in the freezer in hopes of killing any errant bugs.

He said he dealt with a bed bug infestation a number of years ago that took three months to clear up and involved buying two deep freezes, daily vacuuming and plenty of laundry.

"It was a three-month-long nightmare," said Johnson. "It affected me so traumatically that I don't want that to ever happen again."


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