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The bedbug plague, part 1

Reading about Bedbug infestations in France has seriously dampened my desire to go on a long-awaited holiday there.

Then I read that there have been sightings on the London Underground. Oh, dear.

On Tuesday, October 10, 2023, The Guardian reported (emphases mine):

The bedbug threat to public transport in London is “a real source of concern” after reports of outbreaks in Paris, the capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has said.

A viral video at the weekend, which purported to show a bedbug on a passenger’s leg on the Victoria line and has been viewed more than 1m times, has stoked alarm that the UK could face similar problems to the French capital, where there have reportedly been growing numbers of the blood-sucking insects in flats, cinemas and trains.

Speaking to the PoliticsJoe website, Khan said: “This is a real source of concern. People are worried about these bugs in Paris causing a problem in London.

“I want to reassure those listening that TfL [Transport for London] has the best regimes to clean our assets on a nightly basis. We are speaking to our friends in Paris to see if there are any lessons to be learned but for a variety of reasons we don’t think those issues will arise in London; but there is no complacency from TfL.”

Some experts have queried whether the video shows a live bedbug, or what type of bug, but the UK is no stranger to bedbugs, which are found globally.

It is hard to tell whether the bedbug panic is the latest instalment in Project Fear or if there really is a plague of them:

Prof Robert Smith of the University of Huddersfield said that people should not be too alarmed by increased reports of bed bugs as these were likely to “reflect widespread media coverage over the last week or so” rather than an invasion from Paris.

The Guardian article goes on to say:

Often they are transported in luggage, secreting themselves in travellers’ suitcases and on clothing. There is often an increase in July and August, when a lot of people are on the move.

Once imported they can hide in small crevices, often in bedroom furniture, or even skirting boards or behind mirrors and pictures, and bite at night. They are not known to transmit disease and their bite is painless but will leave a red, itchy mark. However, their droppings and remains may trigger allergies in some.

Data from the pest control company Rentokil in September showed that from 2022 to 2023, the UK had a 65% increase in bedbug infestations.

They can spread rapidly – a female adult can lay up to 10 eggs a day, and 200-500 eggs in her lifetime – meaning prompt detection and taking swift, effective action are key to controlling an infestation.

Unfortunately, bedbugs are good at resisting pesticides:

Prof James Logan of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine said bed bugs were “on the increase globally” because they were “becoming resistant to insecticides that we normally use to kill them. We are also seeing increasing travel, which helps them to spread.”

Of course, one of the experts interviewed said, ‘Don’t panic’, but it’s difficult when getting rid of the pests is top priority — and pricey. Professor Logan gave recommendations for those on holiday and those at home:

recommended that people keep their luggage off the floor and zipped up while staying in hotels, or hang clothes in the wardrobe but avoid drawers and leaving clothing on the floor. If they see or suspect bed bugs, they should ask to change room or move hotels, he recommended. Upon return, he suggested unpacking bags outdoors and bagging up clothes, then putting them in the freezer or washing at a high temperature.

“If you are unlucky enough to have bedbugs, the best thing to do is to call a pest controller as soon as possible. It is really important that you know that you have bedbugs very quickly because the earlier you catch them, the easier it is to treat an infestation. Do not try to treat the infestation yourself,” he said.

The French connection

I first read about France’s bedbug infestations a couple of years ago in Marianne, a French newsweekly.

Nearly every hotel — even the smallest ones — has been requisitioned for the 2024 Olympic Games. Some of these establishments have had less than salubrious guests over the past several years, so they have to be fumigated and refurnished.

Marianne also interviewed individuals who had to deal with infestations in their homes. There is no miracle cure. Everyone affected said they were alarmed at the invasion, the inconvenience and the cost.

This year, the French have found a new way of detecting bedbugs. On October 8, The Telegraph reported that sniffer dogs are in demand:

A pair of British and Irish sniffer dogs have joined Paris’s front line battle against bed bugs, whose eradication has become priority number one.

Cocker Spaniels Thunder, 10, and Troy, 5, cost their owners €15,000 (£12,000) apiece but they are worth their weight in gold as cinemas, luxury hotels, and Parisian households vie for their impressive bug detection skills.

With France in the throes of national psychosis over the rise of the dreaded “punaise de lit” business is booming for the dogs’ masters, American-Italian couple Kristina Pankus and Aldo Massaglia from Doggybug.

“It’s absolutely mad right now. We can’t keep up. Since bedbugs hit the headlines about three weeks ago, business is up around 45 per cent,” said Mr Massaglia.

They charge between €260 and €350 for a private flat but large hotel searches can run into the thousands …

But their most frequent customers are Parisian households. In around two-thirds of callouts, they do detect bed bugs

The Spaniels had followed an intensive eight months’ training in Miami, Florida …

The couple take Thunder and Troy back to Florida for a refresher course every three months at a cost of $1,000 a trip. The dogs fly cabin class.

They also receive sealed vials of live and dead bed bugs from a UK-based entomologist so the dogs can smell the difference between the two.

Holding up a tennis ball, Mr Massaglia, said: “The dog associates bedbugs with this ball. When they stop, they believe they have found a new ball, and they get to play with this one as a reward.”

The Telegraph interviewed one of Mr Massaglia’s clients in Paris. The mother was sanguine:

When I told friends and family, they said how terrible it was but nobody’s died. It’s not that I’ve got cancer. We’ll just follow the instructions.

Still, treatment is an ordeal:

Once inspection was complete, the bug detectives suggested the family wash and dry all clothes at high temperatures.

They were also advised to hire a steam gun for the bed and furniture or get a pest control company to do it for them at a cost of around €200 an hour. Chemicals, they said, were harmful, far more costly and mostly useless as the bugs were largely resistant to most types.

Mr Massaglia added: “But many companies claim the contrary so they can sell their wares and just spray homes in a short time and pocket the gains.”

With Paris readying to host the Olympic Games in nine months, the French government is struggling to contain nationwide panic over the pests

But had the dog handlers noticed an explosive rise?‌

Mr Massaglia said: “Frankly no. We’ve been in the business for more than a decade and we’ve always been called to hotels, schools and cinemas. But now people are scared, the unions are getting involved and demanding action.”‌

I will have more on this tomorrow.

This post first appeared on Churchmouse Campanologist | Ringing The Bells For, please read the originial post: here

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The bedbug plague, part 1


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