French social media is abuzz with talk of a bedbug infestation that’s hit Paris. The insects have apparently spread to many public and private buildings in the French capital, with senior officials working to develop a containment plan. But many of the alleged sightings haven’t been confirmed — so is this problem really as bad as it sounds?
Bedbugs: just the mention of these tiny bloodsuckers is enough to make anyone’s skin crawl. These diminutive, parasitic insects have been the bane of human existence for centuries, and they are making an unfortunate resurgence in many parts of the world. These creatures have one primary source of nourishment: human blood. They can feed on other animals as well, but bedbugs prefer to feed on human blood, usually at night when people are sleeping, which is how they earned their infamous name.
In Paris, news of a bedbug infestation has been dominating the headlines for around a week. Officials say there’s no real need to panic, but at the same time, members of the economy and transport ministries have scheduled a meeting to come up with a plan to contain the insects.
“The state urgently needs to put an action plan in place against this scourge as France is preparing to welcome the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2024,” the capital’s deputy mayor, Emmanuel Gregoire, said in a letter to Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne last week. The deputy mayor specifically called for support for low-income households, which rarely have the means to call in pest control firms.
Bedbug bites can cause skin irritation, itching, and sometimes allergic reactions. Although they are not known to transmit diseases, the discomfort and stress they cause are significant — just knowing that there are creatures that feed on you while you sleep can be psychologically distressing.
Dealing with a bedbug infestation is not cheap. Professional extermination can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and that doesn’t include the cost of replacing infested furniture or belongings. To make matters even worse, a female can produce up to 20 eggs from a single meal, and they easily travel on people’s luggage or clothing.
So how bad is it, really?
As so often happens, it’s hard to get a clear image of what’s going on. Professional pest managers quoted by the BBC say that in the vast majority of cases they’ve been called to, there were no bedbugs (oftentimes, other insects were mistaken for bed bugs). Some professionals mentioned that cynical pest controllers may come in and “eradicate the bedbugs” even when there are no bedbugs around.
Transport Minister Clément Beaune said that of nearly 50 reported sightings of bedbugs on metro trains, not a single one has been verified.
“I wouldn’t like to see a kind of French-bashing take hold… as it does sometimes in Anglo-Saxon countries,” he said. “The problem needs to be taken very seriously. No denial. And no hysteria.” Meanwhile, people in nearby England and Belgium are already importing some of the hysteria, although experts say bedbugs are already prevalent in every major city and it’s not like an infestation can just come from elsewhere.
But it’s clear that in the past few weeks, calls about bedbugs in France have been surging.
Teachers at the Elisa-Lemonnier lycée (high school) in Paris refused to work after bedbugs were discovered in several classrooms. The bugs have been reported at Parisian cinemas, hospitals, and in private homes
The weather may also have helped the bedbugs as they thrive and can spread faster in warmer temperatures — and the temperature this past month has been abnormally warm.
Not So Fun Facts
Bedbugs reproduce at a fairly rapid rate. Most eggs will hatch within 9 days of being laid and females produce up to 7 eggs a day for 10 days after a blood meal — in spite of her injuries. The bedbug reproduction process is well known for being unique. If you thought bedbugs weren’t upsetting enough, here’s a fun fact: they’re not just horrible to humans, they’re horrible to each other as well. They are one of the few species that practice “traumatic insemination”.
The males have a barbed needle for a penis and they can basically stab the female anywhere. The sperm is then carried through the haemolymph (insect bloodstream) and from there to the female reproductive organs. Females have developed a dent in the abdomen that encourages males to pierce them there, but the males don’t always play along. In fact, male bed bugs sometimes try to inseminate each other, and they even try to inseminate other species. What a lovely bunch, eh?
What Happens Next
For now, the first priority for French officials is to get an accurate picture of how bad the infestation is, but this is not an easy task. The inconsistent verification of these sightings makes it difficult to gauge the actual extent of the problem, leaving both citizens and officials in a state of unsettling uncertainty.
What is clear, however, is that bedbugs can become more than just a minor inconvenience; they can easily become a significant public health concern that could have lasting economic and psychological repercussions. With Paris slated to host the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, the urgency to address the issue effectively and transparently has never been greater.
Bed bugs have been a nuisance for humans for thousands of years. With increased global travel and pesticide resistance, these resilient pests are spreading more easily than ever before. Also, because they are so adept at hiding in small cracks and crevices, they can be extremely difficult to detect until an infestation has reached a significant level.
In the end, knowledge is power. The more we understand about these tiny invaders, the better equipped we’ll be to take the necessary precautions and treatments to reclaim our homes — and our peace of mind.