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FACTCHECK: Is there really a 'plague' of bedbugs in France?

The Local France
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FACTCHECK: Is there really a 'plague' of bedbugs in France?
Bed bugs are a growing problem in France and around the world. Photo by JEWEL SAMAD / AFP

If you believe certain media, France is under attack from a plague of bedbugs which have infested public transport, cinemas, hotels and homes - but is the bedbug threat being exaggerated for political reasons?


French newspapers have been dominated by reports on bedbugs in recent days, and international media has also picked up the story, running alarming articles about the 'invasion' of bedbugs, while punaises de lit (bedbugs) has been trending on social media. 

But the story has also gained huge international traction - the mayor of London was the latest person to get involved, saying on Tuesday that a spike in bedbug cases in France "is a real source of concern", as fears grow of the blood-sucking insects spreading to Britain.


Sadiq Khan said his officials were in touch with French authorities, as well as transport bosses in the British capital and the cross-Channel train operator Eurostar, over the issue, adding: "People are worried about these bugs in Paris causing a problem in London".

The story seems to have gained particular traction in the USA, with CNN even running a special report on it.


There's no doubt that bedbugs exist in France, that they're extremely annoying and itchy and that getting an infestation in your home taken care of is time consuming and expensive. But is the problem truly getting worse? And is it worse in France than elsewhere? 


What's new?

Bedbugs have spared space with humans since the neolithic era, so they're not new. And it's also not news that they exist in France, there are regular stories in French media about the latest treatments for them - while local authorities usually have an advice page on their website about who to call if you get an infestation.

So why the sudden interest? It seems to have been sparked when cinemagoers in Paris reported being bitten by the bugs while watching a film, with several people posting pictures on social media of their limbs covered in itchy bite-marks. A few days later, others reported seeing the bugs on trains.

The story was widely reported and then the politicians got involved - the leader of the hard-left La France Insoumise party brought some bedbugs to parliament (in a jar that was hopefully tightly sealed) and accused the government of being 'caught napping' by the bedbug invasion, calling on them to take action to protect the population. 

The call has been picked up by several other opposition politicians, including Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Grégoire, who described the problem as a "national emergency."

In a letter to Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne 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.

READ ALSO Did the Paris deputy mayor really say 'no-one is safe' from bedbugs?

Definitely the most distasteful spectacle of the debate so far was the right-wing media pundit who asked whether immigrants with 'lower standards of hygiene' were to blame for the bugs (no they're not, and bedbugs are not caused by a lack of cleanliness - see below).

So is there actually an increase in bedbug reports? 

The health ministry says it has seen no evidence of an increase in bedbug reports but, stung into action by the media frenzy, the government will nonetheless hold a special meeting on Friday on the subject of bedbugs.

Getting exact figures on bedbug numbers is not easy, since most infestations are not reported to local or national authorities - most people simply call the exterminator if they find them in their home.

Transport minister Clément Beaune says that Paris public transport operator RATP has checked 10 reports of bedbugs and national rail operator SNCF has checked 37 reports, and neither have found any infestations. Sniffer dogs - the most common tool used by professional exterminators - have been deployed to check trains and Metro carriages for bugs. 


Seven schools, including in Marseille and Paris, where bedbugs were reported have been found to have an infestation and have been closed down for several days to be cleaned out, local authorities said.

Several specialist companies that deal with bedbugs have reported an increase in call-outs in recent years, although most say their calls are to private homes that have the bugs.

Nicolas Roux de Bezieux, founder of the Badbugs extermination company, told CNews that incidents in France are doubling every five years, with one in 10 households affected at least once since 2017. It is not yet an epidemic, he said, and it is not a threat to physical health.

Why are there more bedbugs now? 

Even if it's not a 'plague', it does seem that bedbug reports are rising, and not just in France.

The bugs were virtually extinct in the 1950s, but since then have seen a steady resurgence which most experts blame on the ban on chemicals such as DDT which used to be used to kill them.

Steadily increasing tourism has also been blamed, as tourists often carry the bugs from place to place in their suitcases.


Bedbugs are a global problem, and the trend for increases in cases has been reported in many countries - pest controllers in the USA say bedbug cases have reached "exponential levels" with Chicago, New York and Philadelphia reporting the highest number of cases. Several luxury hotels in Las Vegas have also been the site of recent infestations.

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington DC hosted a national meeting on bedbugs due to rising reports of the little blood-suckers in towns and cities across the USA. 

Meanwhile across the Channel in the UK, reports of bedbugs have also been steadily rising - the pest-control company Rentokil reported a 65 percent rise in bedbug call-outs so far this year.

Are they harmful? 

Bedbugs leave bites on the arms and legs that can be very itchy, especially if you have a sensitivity, which in rare cases develop into blisters.

There's no doubt that the itching is extremely annoying, while people who have bedbugs in their home often find it hard to sleep until the infestation has been cleared out.

However, the bugs do not spread any kind of disease and do no cause serious health problems.

How can you protect yourself? 

Bedbugs are often spread by tourists while hotels - even expensive ones - are common sites for an infestation.

Bedbugs have nothing to do with cleanliness - even if your hotel or apartment is immaculately clean you can still have bugs, because they can only be killed by heat - usually above 60C.

If you have an infestation in your home you will almost certainly have to call to professional exterminator, while travellers who may have been in a bedbug infested place are advised to wash and dry all their clothes at above 60C and avoid bringing suitcases/bags into their homes.

You can find full details of how to avoid and deal with bedbugs here.


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