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OPINION: Why in France, even bedbugs are political

John Lichfield
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OPINION: Why in France, even bedbugs are political
Bed-bugs in France have become a political issue. Photo by JEWEL SAMAD / AFP

As complaints about bedbugs soar, French politicians of all stripes are rushing to push their own agenda on the annoying, itchy little blood-suckers, writes John Lichfield.


In France everything becomes political, even bedbugs.

The country may or may not be suffering from an epidemic of the tiny blood-suckers. More of that in a moment.

Pascal Praud, the standard-bearer of the growing hard-right news empire which surrounds the C-News TV Channel, already knows who is to blame.

It’s the immigrants, innit?

Praud put the following question last Friday to a bedbug expert on one of his many C-News programmes, L’heure des pros.

"There is a lot of immigration at the moment…Is it people who don’t have the same cleanliness standards as people who live in France that are bringing (the bedbugs) here? Is there a link there?"

Er, no, said the expert. Not at all.


Praud claims to be a pro. Had he conducted any research, he would have discovered that a proliferation of bedbugs has nothing to do with cleanliness. Their resurgence, after almost being exterminated in the 1950s, is mostly blamed on the abolition of dangerous insecticides like DDT.

They are spread by travellers, amongst others, but mostly by wealthier travellers like tourists.

Praud’s words provoked anger on the left and centre of French politics. Such a blatant and cynical example of the immigration derangement syndrome of the right should not go unpunished, several deputies said. They called on Praud to be investigated by the TV watchdog, Arcom, and by the justice ministry.

Pascal Praud says that he is the real victim. “For simply having asked a question I’ve been insulted, harassed and defamed,” he complained.

Nonsense, Monsieur Praud. It wasn’t a “simple question”; it was a loaded question, calculated to appeal to the prejudices of the growing C-News audience on the hard and far right.

Is there a bedbug epidemic in France anyway? It depends on who you listen to.

Mathilde Panot, the leader of the hard-left La France Insoumise party in the National Assembly, says that the tiny creatures are everywhere. She brought a small flask full of bedbugs to the assembly on Tuesday to prove her point.

“Six years after I first raised this problem, the inaction of the government has created an explosive situation,” she said. “Bedbugs are causing misery to millions of our fellow citizens. They are a public health problem and you’ve done nothing.”

In recent weeks, there have been viral videos on social media showing bedbugs crawling on the seats of Paris Metro trains and on a Paris-Marseille TGV. On Monday, a collège (middle school) in the 3rd arrondissement of Marseille closed for a week for fumigation after bedbugs were found in the satchels of pupils.

Health ministry officials are not entirely convinced. “There have always been bedbugs,” said one official. “The difference is that the media are talking about them”.


The transport and health ministers have promised to investigate. But the health minister, Aurélien Rousseau, told France Inter radio: “There is no reason for widespread panic. There is no bedbug invasion.”

Really? Specialist firms say that there has been a 65 percent increase in bug call-outs this year.  Nicolas Roux de Bezieux, the man to whom Praud put his immigrant question, is the founder of a French company called Badbugs which combats noxious insects of all kinds.

He says that incidents in France are doubling every five years. One in ten households has been affected at some time since 2017. It is not yet an epidemic, he says, and it is not a threat to physical health. Bedbugs do not transmit diseases, although they can drive people crazy.

The deputy mayor of Paris, Emmanuel Grégoire, disagrees. He talks of a bedbug “national emergency.” In a letter to the Prime Minister, Elisabeth Borne last Thursday, he wrote: “The State must urgently bring together all the stakeholders concerned in order to deploy an action plan commensurate with this scourge while France is preparing to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2024.”


The bedbug, or punaise du lit, or Cimex lectularius has been a close companion of human beings since Neolithic times. They are tiny insects 6 to 9 millimetres long that feed on human blood or any sort of blood that they can find.

They almost died out when DDT and other now-banned forms of insecticide were available. Treatment is still possible but it is is laborious and expensive (€800 a household) and can last up to three months.

They are spreading in all countries but, for reasons unexplained, the phenomenon is more acute - or more complained about - in France.

On the whole, it does appear that the government has been caught napping by their resurgence. Mathilde Panot, who in my experience rarely has anything useful to say, performed a public service when she bit the government’s backside on the issue.

By comparison, Pascal Praud, on the opposite side of the political spectrum, resorted to the crudest form of scare tactics. Bedbugs – invasive blood-suckers – are a perfect and deeply pernicious far-right metaphor for immigrants.

By linking the two phenomena, Pascal Praud says that he was asking an innocent question?

I don’t think so.


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