A plague of bedbugs has infested Paris and other French cities, causing a surge of insectophobia and raising concerns about the health and safety of the upcoming Olympic Games.
The number of reported bedbug sightings has increased over the past few weeks, and this upward trend dates back several years.
Jean-Michel Berenger, an entomologist at the main hospital in Marseille and France's foremost authority on bedbugs, says that every late summer there is a dramatic increase in bedbugs.
He mentioned that this is due to the fact that people travel throughout July and August, which brings bedbugs back in their luggage and every year the seasonal increase is greater than the previous year.
Official statistics indicate that one in ten Parisian apartment residents have encountered bedbugs within the past five years.
Unconfirmed reports of recent sightings of bedbugs in movie theaters are taken seriously. Similarly, there have been reports of individuals being bitten on trains.
Now, both the Paris City Hall and the government of President Emmanuel Macron are calling for action.
The fact that they do not dismiss the bedbug panic as a social media fabrication is indicative of how seriously they take the issue and the need to safeguard the image of Paris prior to the 2024 Olympic Games.
The circulation of videos depicting unidentified mites on a seat terrifies cinema proprietors, who are already concerned about falling attendance. People on subways have begun to inspect their upholstery. Some would rather stand.
Mr. Berenger explains that this year there is a new element, which is the pervasive psychosis.
In a sense, it's a positive thing because it raises awareness of the issue, and the sooner you take action against bedbugs the better. However, the problem has been greatly exaggerated.
Bedbugs are making a resurgence, and have been doing so for perhaps twenty or thirty years. But this is the case everywhere, not just in France.
Globalization, container trade, tourism, and immigration is the most significant of several factors. There is no evidence of climate change.
The bedbug, whose Latin name is Cimex lectularius, is a domesticated organism. It follows human movement. The weather does not factor in.
The pervasive use of DDT after World War II drastically reduced the population of bedbugs, along with many other creatures. However, DDT and numerous other chemicals have been prohibited over the years due to their harmful effects on humans.
A third factor may be the decline of cockroaches, which is mainly attributable to cleaner dwellings. Cockroaches are predators of bedbugs. No one is recommending reinfesting residences with cockroaches to combat bedbugs.
Because of our cultural forgetfulness of bedbugs, Mr. Berenger says industrialized nations are more prone to worry about them. Other regions still have them, but people keep the threat in perspective.
The threat from bedbugs is psychological, not physical. Although disgusting, Cimex lectularis does not spread disease. It has nasty, short-lived stinging.
It sheds its exoskeletons at regular intervals; it leaves faeces in the forms of black dots (digested blood).
It wiggles in pleasure at the scent of a human and it can last for a year without food. All horrible things to consider. But the true damage is to the mental health of the infected.