Bed bug panic spreads across France ahead of 2024 Olympics

PARIS (AP) — They crawl, they crawl, they feast on your blood while you sleep.

You may travel in your clothes or backpacks to find another person worth eating with – on the subway or at the cinema. Bed bugs come everywhere and they have become a nightmare that has plagued France for weeks.

The government has been forced to intervene to reassure an increasingly worried country that will host the Olympics in just over nine months – a major venue for infestations of the human-loving insects.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has called a ministerial meeting on Friday to address the bed bug crisis. The country’s transport minister, Clement Beaune, met with transport companies this week to develop a plan for surveillance and disinfection – and to try to ease what some are calling a national psychosis ignited by the media.

Pest control technician Lucas Pradalier searches for bed bugs in a Paris apartment.
Pest control technician Lucas Pradalier searches for bed bugs in a Paris apartment.

“There is no resurgence of cases,” Beaune said, telling reporters that 37 cases reported on the bus and subway system and a dozen more on trains proved unfounded — as did viral videos on social media Media of tiny creatures supposedly nesting in a human’s seat Fast Train.

Yet bed bugs have plagued France and other countries for decades. The Insects the size of an apple seed People who don’t jump or fly get around as easily as people travel from city to city and country to country, and they have become increasingly resistant to insecticides. If that’s not enough to cause the itching, bed bugs can survive for a year without food.

Without blood, “they can slow down their metabolism and just wait for us,” said Jean-Michel Berenger, an entomologist who breeds bed bugs in his laboratory in the infectious diseases department of the Mediterranee University Hospital in Marseille. The carbon dioxide that all humans emit “will reactivate them… and they will come back to bite you.”

This much is certain for the time being, said Berenger: “Bed bugs have infested the media.”

Bed bugs have plagued France and other countries for decades.
Bed bugs have plagued France and other countries for decades.

But bad dreams are usually fueled by a hint of reality.

According to a report by the National Agency for Health and Food Safety, between 2017 and 2022, more than one in ten households in France were infested with bed bugs. The agency relied on an Ipsos survey to ask people about a topic that many prefer not to discuss because they fear that going public with a bed bug problem would stigmatize them.

But remaining silent is a mistake, experts say. No social class is immune from finding bed bugs in their clothing, blankets or mattresses.

“It’s not a hygiene problem at all. The only thing you care about (bugs) is your blood,” said Berenger, the entomologist. “Whether you live in a dump or a palace, for them it’s the same.”

Business is booming for companies that eradicate the small brown insects, a process that often begins with detection by dogs trained to sniff the distinctive smell that bed bugs give off. If an infestation is confirmed, technicians move in and spray the area with super-hot steam. Heat and cold are the enemies of bed bugs. A French government recommendation for victims is to put well-packaged clothing in the freezer.

Kevin Le Mestre, director of Lutte Antinuisible, said his company is receiving “dozens and dozens” of calls. In the past, people often didn’t react, not even to bites.

“Once they discover a bite, they no longer wonder whether it is really from bedbugs or not. They call us immediately,” said Lucas Pradalier, a pest control technician for the company, as he disinfected a Paris apartment. A sniffer dog discovered bed bugs in a skirting board and between the floorboards.

The French public panicked about a month ago after reports of bed bugs in a Paris cinema. Videos appeared on social networks showing small insects on trains and buses.

Now both social democrats and centrists from President Emmanuel Macron’s party want to propose bills to combat bed bugs. Far-left MP Mathilde Panot recently brought a vial full of bed bugs to parliament to criticize the government for what she said was allowing the bugs to run rampant.

Bed bugs, an ancient bane of humans, appear to have disappeared with treatment with harsh, now banned insecticides. They reappeared in the 1950s, particularly in densely populated cities like New York. And thanks to trade and tourism, they travel the world.

This represents a major challenge for the Olympic Games in Paris, which begin in July.

“All human population movements are beneficial to bed bugs because they go with us, to hotels, in transportation,” Berenger said.

Transport Minister Beaune hopes steps can be taken to ease public fears. But he admitted: “It’s hell, these bugs.”

Associated Press journalist Alex Turnbull in Paris contributed to this report.

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