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France's Bed Bug Epidemic - What can we do to stop the spread?

France, and particularly the city of Paris, are facing a bed bug epidemic. Reported sightings of the bugs increased after Paris Fashion Week, when they were seen frequently on trains, homes, cinemas, and even hospitals. However, worries about the pest spreading to other countries have been confirmed, with sightings of the pest seen in St. Pancras International, experts have claimed.

Some Twitter (now X) users claimed that they ‘weren’t even surprised’, following one tweet online. And other users were quick to hop on the meme train, making jokes about the situation. In a 2020 survey done by Hammonds Furniture, out of 2,000 people, only 30% of those who took part revealed that they only wash their bed sheets once a year. The city of Paris definitely isn’t a stranger to visitors. In 2022, the city saw 44 million tourists flock to the destination. But it also isn’t a stranger to bed bugs.

According to ANSES, the French health and safety agency, between 2017 and 2022, more than one in ten French households hosted the pests. They report that the ‘upsurge in bed-bug infestations in recent years has been due in particular to the rise in travel and the increasing resistance of bed bugs to pesticides.’ These particular bed bugs have mutated to become stronger and more resistant. They have evolved to create ways to fight against chemicals used to destroy them.

What are bed bugs?

Bed bugs are small pests, reddish-brown in colour and about the size of an apple seed, that hide in dark crevices to feed on the blood of a host that sleeps in a bed or on a mattress at night. They cannot fly or jump, but move very quickly. They are notorious for hiding predominantly in mattresses, within corners of bed sheets, internal springs of the mattress, and other nooks, crannies, gaps, and cracks within walls, headboards, drawers, wardrobes, and mattresses. Once they take a hold of your house, they are very hard to get rid of.

Where do bed bugs come from?

For thousands of years, humans have battled with this annoying pest. Most researchers agree that bats originating from the Middle East are the cause of the pests and responsible for introducing bed bugs to humans. This is likely because humans and bats shared the region’s caves. Later on, they were thought to have been brought to America by European settlers, as well as finding homes in Africa, Asia, and Europe. As of now, Antarctica is the only continent that doesn’t have bed bugs. In the 1940s, a pesticide called DDT was developed to deal with bed bug infestations as well as the transmission of diseases such as malaria, typhus, and other insect-borne illnesses. For a significant amount of time afterwards, DDT was viewed as an effective and powerful agent that acted strongly against bugs. This was until, however, research revealed many issues with it. For one, it was classified as a possible carcinogen, as well as endangering wildlife. Furthermore, it started to lose its effectiveness as a pesticide By the 1970s, DDT was banned, but infestations by that point were uncommon, and their population had decreased in the US significantly. However, that didn’t last very long. Since the 1980s, bed bug populations have been rising around the world, particularly in the United Kingdom and now France. Many reasons have been put forward for this rise, but an increase in international travel is at the top of the list. Moreover, people have taken a liking to and started purchasing second-hand furniture to decorate their homes, and finally, an increased resistance to DDT and other pesticides are all common issues that just add to the growing problem.

How can we get rid of bed bugs?

As aforementioned, once in your home, bed bugs are pesky and annoying to get rid of. If you find yourself in the middle of an infestation, these are some tips I recommend from my own experience of being infested with bed bugs for a few months.

Some tips:

- Be vigilant in checking your mattresses, bed sheets, and bed dressings. Do this every evening if necessary, as bed bugs loiter in the evenings and at night.

- Check for bites. Bed bug bites are small dots with a large pink or red circle spreading from the bite - and it will itch constantly. You can be itching these bites for hours, and once you go to bed, you will continue to itch them.

- In the early stages, also check for small blood splatters - you move around a lot when you sleep, and you are likely to crush bed bugs with your arm or leg. Check for dry blood, as this will signal that they are crawling around.

- There is one spray I recommend. This spray helped me a lot when I was getting rid of my infestation. I did end up going through a substantial amount of cans, around four or five, but I found this helped - even after I thought I had gotten rid of everything, I still found a few, and having leftover spray on hand helped. It is an industry level spray, and it was a key ingridient to helping me get rid of the bugs.

- Wash everything thoroughly. I washed almost everything I kept (some clothes I did throw away) at 90 degrees. You’ll need heat, and a lot of it.

- And lastly, if none of these tips work for you, an exterminator may have to be called in as a very last resort.

However, if you are vigilant enough and keep on top of checking your room and home, as well as washing and spraying, an expensive method such as an exterminator won’t have to be used. I got rid of my infestation without one, so it is definitely possible. Bed bugs are pesky, annoying, and certainly on the rise. However, making sure to stay on top of them, especially with the increase in international travel, will make sure that the spread doesn’t become detrimental.

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