Bedbug infestation in Paris: between psychosis and trauma

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Published on 2023-10-17 at 14:00 by Estelle
It's all over the news: France, especially Paris, is said to be infested by bedbugs. In fact, since September, not only households but also cinemas, trains and underground trains in the French capital have been badly infested, as reported on social networks and in the media.

These parasitic insects feed on our blood and hide in beds (hence their name) and furniture. Their bites cause itching and skin irritation. Getting rid of them is also extremely difficult because by the time you realize that your home is infested, it's sometimes already too late, and the nests are already well-established and widespread.

It is important to note that bed bugs do not carry diseases (like mosquitoes, for example). However, they cause dermatological and allergic reactions ranging from a simple bite to more or less severe urticaria, depending on the individual's sensitivity and the number of bites. In case of a serious infestation, they can cause fatigue as well as psychological problems due to the stress.

A brief history of bed bugs

The first traces of bed bugs date back to the prehistoric era. But it is mostly in antiquity that they could be found among humans. Archaeologists found them in Egyptian tombs that had been closed for 3,550 years. In history and in writing, these insects were perceived as a fatality that we bore as best we could. It was only in the 19th century that things got worse with the advent of central heating. These little insects love the heat.

They then disappeared after the Second World War thanks to the introduction of the insecticide DDT (or Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane for those who can pronounce it). But it only lasted for a while because, over time, they began to resist this product and, above all, showed signs of being dangerous both to human health and to the environment. Its use is, therefore, very limited and even banned in some countries, such as the United States.

Since the end of the 20th century, the number of bed bugs has been increasing, mainly due to trade and tourist travel, which are much more frequent nowadays. In France, according to a report by the National Agency for Food, Environment and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES), between 2017 and 2022, 11% of French households have been affected.

Bedbugs in Paris: Testimonies

Bedbugs are currently making the headlines, and everybody is discussing how to tackle them. This type of infestation has to be taken seriously as it can have a real psychological impact on those affected.

Christine learned about this problem through her close friend: "So my friend went through this twice, a few months apart. Her son came to visit her from abroad and was most likely carrying bedbugs in his luggage, as it usually happens. She had to clean and throw away everything because her apartment was completely infested. So she had to buy new furniture, including all her bedding, which was quite expensive. It was a tough time for her financially and psychologically, and she had to take a loan to help her with these expenses. It was also hard for her son, who felt very bad about it, even if he didn't do it deliberately".

Camille, who lives near Paris, faced infestation twice and was traumatized. She says: "You can't imagine how worried I am at the moment. I don't even dare open the internet for fear of coming across news about it! I'm traumatized by all this, and I want to show that this kind of thing can really affect people. Honestly, whenever I go to a hotel, on vacation, or anything else, I don't put anything on the floor, I don't walk barefoot, and I put everything up high. Afterwards, I inspect the entire accommodation for about ten minutes and I even undo the bed to check that there's nothing suspicious. At the end of the stay, when I get home, I put all my belongings from outside in quarantine for 24 hours before unpacking and washing everything. You can see that this has affected me, and it's important to talk about it". For Camille, it has not just been a financial trauma. "It's all we're talking about these days, especially in Paris. I'm scared to use public transport, I don't dare sit down anymore, and as soon as I get home I inspect everything. It's really difficult for me at the moment."

According to Camille, this situation is quite challenging because it's already too late by the time you identify the problem. "I didn't really know what to do (I used to live in a shared apartment, but only my room was infested because I had welcomed a friend from abroad a few weeks earlier). I hired a disinfestation company but got scammed because they did almost nothing to eradicate the problem. The product they used wasn't efficient at all." In the end, Camille had to put everything tied in plastic bags and kept only what was strictly necessary. "I washed everything in my room in a washing machine at 60°C. However, I had to throw out the bed itself, which was made of wood, because all the larvae were inside and the treatment had been ineffective. The whole thing lasted over a month, so I stayed at a friend's place for a few days because I could not sleep. The disinfestation product was quite harmful, and I wasn't supposed to remain in the room."

The second time for Camille and her partner was in an old Parisian apartment with old furniture and ancient parquet flooring. "The insects had infested the furniture, the parquet and the carpets. This time, it wasn't bedbugs per se, but it looked like them: they reproduce very quickly and are very hard to get rid of. It was difficult, and it took time to understand the problem. I cried a lot because I was traumatized again." This time, Camille chose to take care of everything herself by buying products in specialist shops and head-to-toe overalls with goggles and masks to carry out the disinfestation. "We couldn't go home for 48 hours until the product became effective. The chemical products had a horrible smell, but with this type of problem, you just look for the most effective way of getting rid of it. The rest doesn't really matter anymore." In this case, too, Camille and her partner threw away many things, like carpets and curtains, and washed everything in a washing machine at 60°C. "It's important to remember that chemical treatments aren't 100% effective, especially if you haven't managed to find the nest. In fact, that's what can take time (in our case, it lasted a month and a half in all)."

A recent survey by the Institut Selvitys highlights how Parisians feel about this highly publicized infestation. While many feel that the situation has created a psychosis within the capital, others believe it is important to inform themselves about the phenomenon to take appropriate action.