People in Paris and beyond are currently despairing over an apparent scourge of parasitic, bloodsucking bedbugs – but despite cases of the critters indeed being on the rise, experts have said that the current panic is, at times, a touch overblown.
As the CDC notes, bedbugs (Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus) are in fact having a resurgence, explaining on their website that “although the presence of bed bugs has traditionally been seen as a problem in developing countries, it has recently been spreading rapidly in parts of the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and other parts of Europe.”
In France, the issue has become a hot topic, with French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party announcing a bill to fight the “scourge” on October 3. People claim to have seen them on trains and cinemas, although many of these reports were not subsequently proven.
However, Minister of Health and Prevention Aurélien Rousseau told France Inter, a French radio station, that there is “no reason for widespread panic” and that “we haven’t been invaded by bedbugs.” So what’s really going on?
As entomologist and France's leading expert on bedbugs, Jean-Michel Bérenger, told the BBC, "Every late summer we see a big increase in bedbugs. That is because people have been moving about over July and August, and they bring them back in their luggage.” He added that this seasonal increase is getting bigger year on year, explaining to Le Monde, “The spread has been going on for years now.”
Why the commotion now?
It could be fear around the effects on next year’s summer Olympic Games in Paris. However, social media is also a factor, with the biting bugs “‘infesting’ social networks and the media,” as Bérenger put it to Le Monde.
"There is a new element this year - and that is the general psychosis which has taken hold," he told the BBC. "It is a good thing in a way because it serves to make people aware of the problem, and the sooner you act against bedbugs the better. But a lot of the problem is being exaggerated."
National Institute for the Study and Control of Bedbugs (INELP) president Marie Effroy told CNN that although there is indeed a problem and bedbugs have been rising in number in France for the past two or three years, with this year going “beyond all years”, “at the same time, there’s a kind of paranoia going on because people hear about bedbugs.” She also clarified that sometimes, people who think they’ve spotted a bedbug may actually be mistaken.
Why is this increase happening?
Bed bugs are transported from one place to another by people, stowing away in areas like luggage. “There was a lull with the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, then an upturn over the last two years with tourism back in full swing as people want to enjoy themselves,” Bérenger explained to Le Monde.
However, “It’s got nothing to do with immigration, it’s related to movement, when you come back from abroad you might bring bedbugs back with you,” Rousseau clarified to France Inter.
Bedbugs are also getting hardy. After being decimated by the insecticide DDT around the 1950s, DDT-resistant populations began to arise. Whilst DDT was later banned due to its harmful effects on humans, even when it comes to modern insecticides, “We are observing more and more bedbug populations which are resistant, so there is no miracle treatment to get rid of them,” Johanna Fite of the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) told CNN.
How do bedbugs spread?
As previously mentioned, travel is a big part of the issue, and those who travel frequently and share living quarters are at higher risk of both spreading and getting chomped on by the bugs. Many people who spread the bedbugs hiding in their belongings don’t even know they have an unwanted travel companion.
It doesn’t matter how clean your house, hotel, or B&B is, as cleanliness is not a factor. However, frequent cleaning can help you spot the critters earlier. Avoiding clutter around your bed and checking any furniture or luggage for sneaky bugs before they enter your home is also a good idea.
If you’re on the lookout for bedbugs, blood spots from either bites or an unfortunate crushed bedbug are one sign, and brown spots from their turds are another. You may also spot their shed exoskeletons and smell a sweet musty odor.
How can you tell if you’ve been bitten by a bedbug?
Luckily, bed bugs are not known to spread disease. Bite marks can actually take up to 2 weeks to develop in some people. They appear like other insect bites, usually red on lighter skin and purple on darker skin. Bérenger explained to Le Monde that there can be “three or four in a line, or maybe clustered together.”
They can be very itchy, and in some cases cause an allergic reaction. It’s advisable to keep the bite area clean and not scratch it. Antihistamines can also help with the itching.
How do you get rid of bedbugs?
Due to their hardiness and difficulty to spot, it’s hard to take a DIY approach. Instead, you should contact your local council, landlord, or a pest control service.
In the meantime, there are certain measures you can take yourself to ease the issue. Sticky traps “work as long as your bed is an ‘island’: no contact with the walls, no sheets or other items touching the floor,” Bérenger told Le Monde.
The UK’s National Health Service also suggests that washing affected bedding and clothing at 60°C (140 °F) and then doing a hot tumble dry for at least half an hour, as well as putting them in a plastic bag in a freezer for up to 4 days, can help.
The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
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