The University of Saskatchewan’s main campus is situated on Treaty 6 Territory and the Homeland of the Métis.

One student’s nightmare: McEown Park residence infested with bed bugs

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Dude you're getting chip crumbs everywhere! Gross!
Dude you’re getting chip crumbs everywhere! Gross!

An international student — we’ll call him “Raj” to protect his  privacy — arrived on campus at the University of Saskatchewan in fall 2011. He had never seen a bed bug in his life.

He moved from India and the first few months living in Seager Wheeler at McEown Park went fine. But by the second semester, he and his roommates found bed bugs.

The students reported the infestation to the Residence Office within 48 hours of finding the bugs and the room was booked for a chemical treatment. It didn’t work.

A second attempt by the university to eliminate the bugs by heating the room to a scorching 49 C was successful and the room was bug-free for the rest of the year.

But Raj had had enough of that place.

During the summer he moved across the park to Assiniboine Hall to have his own private apartment. This is where his bed bug nightmare really began.

“Assiniboine is a building that houses a lot of bed bugs. It’s known for its bed bugs,” he said.

Raj bought a new mattress and a bed bug mattress cover to keep the pests from infesting his bed, but it didn’t work. His room had bed bugs by September.

The bugs feast during the night and are attracted to humans because of their body heat.

Once again his room was treated, but it only kept the bugs at bay until November.

Upon receiving a report of a bed bug infestation, the Residence Office arranges for pest control to assess the room and then books a treatment as soon as possible. They then notify the student or students of the procedures required to prepare their room for treatment and tell them they cannot return to their rooms during the six hours needed to attempt to kill the bugs.

But after Raj informed the Residence Office in November that the bed bugs had returned, he said a treatment was not booked until final exam time in December.

The infestation required four chemical treatments.

“They did four more treatments. And all those four were on my days of my final exams. I told them that I had my final exams. They said to me, ‘No, this is what we can do.’

“It really disturbed me a lot. I had to clean my whole room in the morning before my exam, because in engineering our exams are in the morning. I had to wake up at 5 a.m. every day. I would [go to] sleep late after preparing for exams at two or three in the morning.”

If a room is not properly prepared when pest control arrives, students face a non-negotiable fee of $125.

The four treatments did not eradicate the bed bugs and they began to take their toll on Raj.

Some of Raj’s friends received a cleaning bill for $3,000 after their apartment needed heavy treatments to get rid of not only bed bugs, but mice and cockroaches as well. Their room is known to be a hot spot for pests.

“I started getting used to the bed bugs,” he said. “I had a lot of rashes and infections due to them. I had to start taking sleeping pills to sleep in the night. It’s the worst thing a person of 18 years old could do.”

Raj filed complaints with the Residence Office, contacted Consumer Services, which oversees the residence operations for the university, and applied to move to an apartment without carpet. He still has not received a response.

“I didn’t get a single reply. That makes me frustrated.”

The Sheaf called Residence Life Manager Stephanie Mulhall twice for a comment and did not receive a reply.

Lucky for Raj, he has not yet had to pay for a cleaning bill. But he is worried that he might have to at some point. Students are billed if they do not report bed bugs or other pests within 48 hours of the first sighting. The bills range from $75 to $100 per room. This can be a pricey mistake for students who live in the six-bedroom apartments in Seager Wheeler Hall.

Raj has heard of students receiving $1,000 fines for not reporting bed bugs within two days.

Some of Raj’s friends received a cleaning bill for $3,000 after their apartment needed heavy treatments to get rid of not only bed bugs, but mice and cockroaches as well. Their room is known to be a hot spot for pests.

Raj says that it is easy for students, especially graduate students who are busy and rarely home, to notice an infestation only when it has progressed to its later stages.

“You just come there to sleep and you wake up and you go to your work and do research. That’s what we are here for. It’s not like we keep monitoring for bed bugs.”

The bed bug problems are the only issues Raj has with residences. Moving off-campus is a solution to the bed bugs, but he does not want to give up the proximity to campus, free internet and cheap rent that comes with living in residence.

“We want a good service to be offered because living space is the most important thing in a student’s academic life,” he said.

“That’s what we all want. We all pay a lot of money compared to our country [to study] here and for the residence.”

A nasty situation
McEown Park
McEown Park

Bed bugs are tiny insects that feed on the blood of humans and animals as they sleep. They are about 4-5 millimetres long and have flat, oval-shaped bodies that are brown but change colour to a rusty-red after feeding.

They live in small spaces — crevices in woodwork, mattresses, furniture, picture frames, under wallpaper and in carpet — where they can hide and feed easily. The bugs feast during the night and are attracted to humans because of their body heat.

Usually bed bug bites resemble mosquito and flea bites: itchy, round, red and inflamed.

Apart from bite marks, the presence of bed bugs can be identified by the red and brown spots they leave on bed sheets from their bloodied fecal matter. They can often be found in mattress folds and tend to leave a musty odour.

Bed bugs were almost fully eradicated worldwide with the use of dangerous pesticides — like the notorious chemical dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT — in the first half of the 20th century.

But as these pesticides were slowly banned and the bugs’ resistance to chemicals rose, so did the worldwide bed bug population. In the last few decades, the spread of bed bugs in North America has been attributed to an increase in domestic and international travel.

Bed bugs are often associated with poor hygiene and cleanliness, but the truth is that an infestation can happen anywhere. Clean homes in Saskatoon and across Canada often have bed bug infestations, and many world-class hotels have reported problems with bed bugs.

No easy fix

Alex Werenka, U of S Students’ Union vice-president of student affairs, says the U of S is far from the only school in Canada that has bed bug problems.

“There’s always students coming and going,” getting rid of bed bugs is a daunting and exhausting task for universities, Werenka said.

The insects hide in luggage, furniture and clothing so they spread easily and inconspicuously.

Occupants of McEown Park’s Assiniboine, Wollaston and Souris Halls are advised not to bring furniture or mattresses they find on the street into their apartments as this has been the greatest cause of bed bugs in residences.

There has not yet been any reports of infestations in the new residences at College Quarter.

Martin Gonzalez is the acting director of Consumer Services.

He said informing students about bed bugs is a priority for the university. He wants students to know that bed bugs are on campus.

“We’ve been trying to focus our attention more on educating and assisting students so that they understand what to look for and how to prep their rooms a little bit better,” Gonzalez said.

During the summer when students are not living in residence, every room is cleaned and rooms that were reported to have had bed bugs throughout the year are heavily inspected and treated when necessary.

Gonzalez said that there is a plan to renovate and refurbish the residences in McEown Park in the near future and that bed bug-resistant furniture will be looked at as a possibility.

Illustration: Jordan Bulgis
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/The Sheaf

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