The French government has been forced to step in to tackle an infestation of bedbugs as the tiny, blood-eating insects continue to plague the country ahead of France hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne called an emergency meeting of ministers for Friday to tackle the bedbug crisis, which has impacted homes and the country’s transportation system. The country’s transport minister, Clement Beaune, met this week with transportation companies to draw up a plan for monitoring and disinfecting and to try to ease what has been described as a national psychosis surrounding the issue.
Bedbugs have become a nightmare haunting France for weeks as creep, crawl, and feast on human blood as unsuspecting victims sleep. They also go where people go, hitching rides on a person’s clothes or backpacks to find another person worth dining on — on the subway or at the cinema.
“It’s hell, these bedbugs,” Beaune told reporters, while clarifying: “There is no resurgence of cases.”
The comment comes after 37 cases were reported in the bus and Metro system and a dozen others on trains proved unfounded as did viral videos of the tiny creatures supposedly burrowing in the seat of a train.
While the suspected spike in cases proved false, removing bedbugs can be problematic as they can remain dormant for extended periods of time and can stay alive for a year without a meal.
Without any blood, “they can slow their metabolism and just wait for us,” said Jean-Michel Berenger, an entomologist who raises bedbugs in his lab at the Mediterranee University Hospital in Marseille. The carbon dioxide that all humans give off “will reactivate them … and they’ll come back to bite you,” Berenger said.
The Paris Olympics starting in July — just over nine months away — would be a prime venue for infestations of the crowd-loving insects.
“All human population movements are profitable for bedbugs because they go with us, to hotels, in transport,” said Berenger.
And, Berenger clarified the presence of bedbugs “is not at all a hygiene problem.”
“The only thing that interests (bedbugs) is your blood,” he continued. “Whether you live in a dump or a palace, it’s the same thing to them.”
Bedbugs have plagued France and other countries for decades. The insects the size of an apple seed that neither jump nor fly get around as easily as people travel from city to city and nation to nation, and they have become increasingly resistant to insecticides.
More than one household in 10 in France was infested with bedbugs between 2017 and 2022, according to a report by the National Agency for Health and Food Safety.
The agency relied on a poll by Ipsos to query people on a topic that many prefer to avoid discussing because they fear going public with a bedbug problem will stigmatize them.
The French public have remained in a panic mode since about a month ago after reports of bedbugs popped up at a Paris movie theater. Videos then circulated on social networks, showing little insects on trains and buses.
Now, President Emmanuel Macron and the country’s lawmakers want to propose bills to fight bedbugs. Far-left lawmaker Mathilde Panot recently brought a vial of bedbugs to the Parliament to chastise the government for, as she explained, letting the creatures run rampant.
Bedbugs seemingly disappeared with treatment by now-banned insecticides but made a reappearance in the 1950s. They continue to travel the world through tourism.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.