Paris has an Olympic-size bedbug problem

The insects are invading the city with less than a year to go until it hosts the Summer Olympics

Bedbug pest control products in Paris
Many Parisians are buying over-the-counter pest control products to try and stop the bedbugs
(Image credit: Migeul Medina / AFP via Getty Images)

Paris is set to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, welcoming the world's nations for the quadrennial sporting competition. Before that, though, France's capital city will have to deal with some less-wanted guests: bedbugs. 

The pests have been infesting the city for weeks, and they're not confined to their namesake beds, either. Videos have been circulating on social media claiming to show bedbugs taking over Paris trains, subways, buses, movie theaters and even at Charles-de-Gaulle Airport.

With nine months to go until the start of the Summer Olympics, questions remain as to whether the plague of insects can be controlled before the Olympians arrive — or even if the plague is real. For now, though, it appears that residents of Paris are having trouble not letting the bedbugs bite.

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Why are bedbugs invading Paris?

A lot of it has to do with an increase in global trade and, especially in Paris, tourism. "Every late summer we see a big increase in bedbugs," entomologist Jean-Michel Berenger told BBC. "People have been moving about over July and August, and they bring them back in their luggage. And each year, the seasonal increase is bigger than the last one."

Bedbugs used to be easier to control in the 1940s and 1950s, thanks to the widespread use of the insecticide DDT. However, DDT has been banned in the decades since due to its harmful health effects on humans. Modern bedbugs are the descendants of "those that survived the DDT blitz," BBC noted. So unfortunately, today's bedbug population is "far more resistant." 

In Paris, videos posted on TikTok and other social media platforms purported to show bedbugs crawling on subway and train seats. Another post on X, formerly Twitter, showed a woman covered in what she said were bedbug bites obtained when visiting a Paris movie theater. These increased sightings, and the resulting panic, come months after a study by French health agency ANSES found that 11% of French households were "infested by bedbugs" between 2017 and 2022.

The ANSES study concluded that bedbugs were a psychological strain and "financial burden" on the French, with households spending 230 million euros ($241 million) a year to fight bedbugs and 83 million euros ($87.7 million) treating bedbug-related health problems.

Concerns have inevitably turned to what could happen if the bedbugs linger for the Summer Olympics. In the meantime, "Paris companies specializing in treating insect infestations say they've been overwhelmed in recent weeks." CBS News reported.

What is being done?

City officials have sounded the alarm, and French President Emmanuel Macron's government has gotten involved. Paris Deputy Mayor Emmanuel Grégoire urged French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on X and in a letter to bring "all stakeholders" to the table and "put an action plan in place against this scourge" as France prepares to welcome the Olympic Games.

The French government has said it will take steps to eliminate the infestation and "reassure and protect" the public, CNN reported. It is assembling pest control experts to come up with bedbug-fighting best practices, some of which are already on an anti-bedbug site the French government set up three years ago.

After raising the alarm, Grégoire warned against "hysteria" related to the pests. "There is no threat to the Olympic Games," he said. "Bedbugs existed before and they will exist afterward."

Is the bedbug panic overblown?

Bedbugs are making a comeback  — "and have been for perhaps 20 or 30 years," not just in Paris but everywhere in the world, BBC said. The pests are a problem in Paris but so is "the general psychosis which has taken hold," said Berenger, the French bedbug expert. "A lot of the problem is being exaggerated."

"The question of whether France is in the grip of a bedbug outbreak or simply grappling with normal levels of pestilence has become a political Rorschach test," The Wall Street Journal explained, with opposition lawmakers feeding the panic and Macron's government pointing out that there's more rumor than fact.

French Transport Minister Clément Beaune said Wednesday, after a meeting with public transportation providers, that no bedbugs had been found in the subway or on trains after dozens of sightings were investigated. "The response to a serious problem should not be a counterproductive caricature," he said. "We must take every case seriously, not fall into psychosis."

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