Super-bedbugs are here and almost impossible to kill, experts warn – as outbreak in Paris


Failing to tackle Britain’s growing bedbug problem will herald a return of Victorian-era infestations, experts have warned.

An outbreak of the blood-sucking parasites has been reported in Paris, with residents and tourists taking to social media to post images of the bugs – which are about the size of an apple seed – crawling across train seats and hotel bed sheets.

The deputy mayor of Paris, Emmanuel Gregoire, last week claimed that ‘no one is safe’ from the ‘scourge’ of bedbugs, whose bites cause painful itching and even permanent scarring.

Meanwhile, some have suggested that the bedbug infestation could easily spread from Paris to London via the Eurostar. The trainline has confirmed it is now checking all departures from Paris – 16 each day – for the tiny insects which often hide in fabric.

But specialists speaking to the MoS claimed the UK already has a growing bedbug problem which can no longer be controlled by conventional insecticides. And studies suggest that bedbug cases have risen by a quarter in the past 15 years.

SCOURGE: Bedbugs have spread in Paris’s hotels and trains – but there are already record infestations in the UK

SCOURGE: Bedbugs have spread in Paris’s hotels and trains – but there are already record infestations in the UK

So how worried should we be about the attack of the bedbugs?

QUESTION: I thought bedbugs existed only in the bedroom – how has Paris become infested?

ANSWER: Despite their name, bedbugs hide in many places, including bed frames, mattresses, clothing and cracks in walls.

‘If you’re seeing them on your sheets, then they’ve likely already got deep into the mattress and your furniture too,’ says Natalie Bungay of the British Pest Control Association. ‘At that point they become incredibly tricky to remove and can easily spread as well.’

Bedbugs typically spread when they get into clothing or bags which are then taken elsewhere.

People may not notice an infestation at first because the bugs usually bite – in order to feed on blood – at night. The bites appear as raised red bumps, often in a straight line, but do not itch initially, with most people only feeling them the next day. This means that they can spread quickly before people realise they are carrying them.

Experts say the outbreak in Paris is likely due to residents returning to the capital after spending the summer elsewhere. But it’s also due to the fact that bedbugs are becoming harder to exterminate.

‘The insecticides we’ve used for decades to fight these bugs can’t always be relied on any more,’ says Professor James Logan, an insect expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and chief executive of research firm Arctech Innovation. ‘Bedbugs in many places have evolved to resist these toxic chemicals.’

QUESTION: Should we be worried that these French bedbugs could make their way to the UK?

ANSWER: It’s likely that some of the bedbugs in Paris will end up in the UK.

Both Eurostar and Transport For London, which controls all public transport in the capital, say they are monitoring surfaces for bedbugs and regularly cleaning seats.

Despite their name, bedbugs hide in many places, including bed frames, mattresses, clothing and cracks in walls

Despite their name, bedbugs hide in many places, including bed frames, mattresses, clothing and cracks in walls

Tell-tale signs you’ve got the bug 

Bedbugs can often be hard to spot given their small size – but their bites are usually an easy giveaway.

The blood-sucking parasites generally come out at night, meaning their bites, pictured right, usually appear in the morning. They are typically red and itchy, and no larger than a penny. However, some people can have a reaction to the bites which can result in painful swelling.

Often the bites will be grouped together or in a line on an area of the skin exposed while sleeping – such as the face, neck and arms.

One of the most common signs of bedbugs are small brown spots on bedding or furniture, which are bedbug faeces. To look for the bugs, check the seams and tags of the mattress, as well as cracks in the bedframe.

They may also hide in the seams of chairs and couches or in the folds of curtains.

But experts say we should be more worried about the bedbugs which are already here. A study carried out by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that, between 2008 and 2015, the number of reported infestations in the UK rose by 25 per cent.

‘It’s likely this has risen more since then,’ says Prof Logan.

According to the British Pest Control Association, there are now roughly 12,000 bedbug-related callouts every year. And experts say that these outbreaks are becoming harder to tackle.

‘Two decades ago a pest controller would show up, spray the house and that would be it,’ says Ms Bungay. ‘Now we’re hearing of a record number of cases where they’re having to return repeatedly because the bugs just aren’t dying’.

QUESTION: But bedbugs are just insects – how can they be getting harder to kill?

ANSWER: Bedbugs are evolving to resist the insecticides that are used to kill them.

Until about 75 years ago, infestations were common in the UK. But after the Second World War the invention of insecticides – chemicals designed to kill parasites – saw the number of bedbug cases in the UK and other developed countries dramatically fall.

But in the 1990s, outbreaks in the UK began to shoot up again. Experts say this is because bedbugs evolve quickly, meaning that, over time, they develop stronger defences against insecticides.

QUESTION: I know bedbugs can be a pain, but can they make me sick?

ANSWER: Bedbugs have long been suspected as carriers of diseases, but there is no clear evidence that this is the case.

Research has suggested they may spread hepatitis B, which can damage the liver. And, in August, US scientists published a study which proved that bedbugs were able to carry MRSA – a type of bacteria which can cause death – though they were not able to prove the insects could pass the disease on to humans.

However, experts say the most severe health risk of bedbugs is usually self-inflicted.

‘When you have hundreds of these itchy bites, your first reaction is to scratch them,’ says Prof Logan. ‘But this can open up wounds on the skin which can get infected. People can end up severely ill in hospital with these infections.’

Antihistamine tablets, such as Piriton, can reduce itching and steroid creams can also help.

BEEN ATTACKED BY BEDBUGS? 

We want to hear your story. 

Get in touch by email at health@mailonsunday.co.uk. 

QUESTION: If insecticides don’t work, how can I get rid of bedbugs?

ANSWER: Removing bedbugs can be complicated and is not cheap.

As the parasites are increasingly resistant to traditional insecticides, exterminators have to employ several techniques.

The most common involves sealing off the affected rooms and filling them with hot air, which kills most of the bugs. The exterminators then spray insecticides.

This process can cost about £600 and take several weeks.

Prof Logan has developed a bed-bug trap, BugScents, which uses pheromones emitted by the insects to lure them in so the user can call an exterminator to handle the rest.

‘The trick is to catch them early before they begin laying eggs,’ he says. ‘We should be implementing more traps and alert systems to tackle the problem.

‘But we also need to develop new insecticides to avoid infestations becoming commonplace again.’



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