How to survive the invasion of LES BEDBUGS… Vacuum your plug sockets, put your clothes


The bedbugs are on the march. Since an unprecedented outbreak of the blood-sucking parasites in France at the end of last month, experts have warned it was only a matter of time before they made their way to the UK.

On Monday, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said the spread of bedbugs was a ‘real source of concern’ and he had contacted French officials to find out what advice they had to slow down the parasites.

This followed a number of social media videos – viewed millions of times – which claim to show the small red bugs crawling across seats and clothing on the London Underground. Meanwhile, Luton Council announced it had received an ‘alarming number’ of calls about bedbugs, sparking concerns the insects – no larger than an apple seed – were entering the UK via airports and train stations.

In France, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Schools have been forced to close due to infestations, while residents of Marseille have been dumping mattresses on the streets in a desperate attempt to get rid of the creatures.

Sharon Haslam, pictured, was covered in bedbug sores after she stayed at the Calypso Hotel in Blackpool with her friend Marian Person

Sharon Haslam, pictured, was covered in bedbug sores after she stayed at the Calypso Hotel in Blackpool with her friend Marian Person 

In Nice, France, teams of pest controllers have been fumigating public transport

In Nice, France, teams of pest controllers have been fumigating public transport 

Could similar scenes occur in Britain? Specialists speaking to the MoS claim that the UK does, without a doubt, have a growing bedbug problem. However, all is not lost. There are still many effective techniques on how to prevent infestations, detect them when they arrive and banish them for good.

We asked the experts to reveal all…

Q: I thought you only got bedbugs in beds. Is nowhere safe?

A: Firstly, there is a low risk of catching bedbugs on public transport. A number of viral social media videos last week claimed to show them crawling across seats and clothing on the Tube.

But French pest control expert Nicolas Roux de Bezieux says: ‘Bedbugs are not good at clinging on to your clothes.’

The insects – which live off blood – have six thin legs with claws that allow them to climb rough surfaces. However, their grip isn’t strong enough to hold on to moving objects or smooth surfaces.

¿The majority of infestations occur after someone has stayed in a hotel or a rental property,¿ says Mr Roux de Bezieux, who also runs pest control website badbugs.fr. ¿If the room is infested, the bugs can get into your bags or pockets. Then, when you return home, you bring them back with you¿

‘The majority of infestations occur after someone has stayed in a hotel or a rental property,’ says Mr Roux de Bezieux, who also runs pest control website badbugs.fr. ‘If the room is infested, the bugs can get into your bags or pockets. Then, when you return home, you bring them back with you’

Q: If they’re not good at clinging on to things, how are they spreading?

A: Experts believe the main mode of transport for bedbugs is in bags and clothing with deep pockets, such as coats and jackets.

‘The majority of infestations occur after someone has stayed in a hotel or a rental property,’ says Mr Roux de Bezieux, who also runs pest control website badbugs.fr.

‘If the room is infested, the bugs can get into your bags or pockets. Then, when you return home, you bring them back with you.’

Bug scientists say, for this reason, the French outbreak will lead to a rise in infestations in the UK.

‘If Paris is seeing an outbreak of bedbugs, people will be bringing them back to the UK,’ says Prof James Logan, an insect expert at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and chief executive of research firm Arctech Innovation. ‘They are incredibly good hitchhikers.’

In Marseilles, residents have bee dumping bedding and clothing on the streets because of fears they may be infested with bedbugs

In Marseilles, residents have bee dumping bedding and clothing on the streets because of fears they may be infested with bedbugs

Q: Should the UK close its border with France?

A: While experts believe the outbreak in France could increase the number of infestations here, they maintain that the UK already has a bedbug problem of its own.

According to Rentokil, there has been a 65 per cent rise in infestations in the past year – pre-dating the French invasion.

‘Bedbug infestations are becoming more common,’ says Prof Logan. ‘They have become more resistant to insecticides over the past two decades, and this has led to an increasing number of bedbugs. Unseasonably warm autumn weather has also raised the risk because the bugs live for longer and breed more when it’s warm.’

Experts point out that while bedbugs can be irritating and expensive to clear, they are not dangerous. Studies suggest the parasites do not carry any disease – though in some rare cases they can trigger allergic reactions.

‘No one wants bedbugs, but they’re not a health hazard,’ adds Mr Roux de Bezieux.

While experts believe the outbreak in France could increase the number of infestations here, they maintain that the UK already has a bedbug problem of its own, pictured, bedbugs

While experts believe the outbreak in France could increase the number of infestations here, they maintain that the UK already has a bedbug problem of its own, pictured, bedbugs

Q: I have a holiday to Paris booked – should I cancel?

A: It is safe to travel to Paris – thousands have made the journey this weekend for the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals – but precautions should be taken.

‘Check the reviews of where you are staying,’ says Prof Logan. ‘If someone has had bedbugs there recently they will almost certainly have left a review complaining. If they have, you should find somewhere else to stay – it’s not worth the risk.’

It is safe to travel to Paris ¿ thousands have made the journey this weekend for the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals ¿ but precautions should be taken

It is safe to travel to Paris – thousands have made the journey this weekend for the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals – but precautions should be taken

Q: What else can I do to avoid unknowingly picking them up?

A: The key to avoiding bedbugs in a hotel is storing your clothes and bags correctly.

Prof Logan says: ‘Don’t put your clothes in the drawers – they are somewhere bedbugs could be hiding as they like these kind of warm, dark, enclosed spaces.

‘And don’t leave your bag open on the floor of a hotel, where they can crawl in. Keep clothes in your zipped-up bag on a shelf. If you need to keep clothes out, then hang them up.’

Q: Will dousing myself in insect repellent stop them biting me?

A: Insect sprays are next to useless against bedbugs.

‘There’s no point using repellents against them,’ says Prof Logan. ‘They may stay away for a few hours, but that’s not very long when you’re asleep.’

Specially trained sniffer dogs are able to sniff out bedbugs in public spaces in an effort to stop their spread

Specially trained sniffer dogs are able to sniff out bedbugs in public spaces in an effort to stop their spread

Q: What if I wake up and think I’ve been bitten?

A: Bedbug bites look much like other insect bites – typically red and itchy, and no larger than a penny – but the pattern of where they appear on the body is the distinctive characteristic.

Often 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.

‘Bedbugs are opportunistic, they want blood as quickly as possible, so they go for exposed areas where the skin is thinnest,’ explains Prof Logan. ‘That could be on the back, arms, legs or around the wrists.’

Another sign of bedbugs are the small brown spots of their faeces on your bedding and furniture

Another sign of bedbugs are the small brown spots of their faeces on your bedding and furniture

To know for sure, you have to find the bugs. The most common location is in the seams of a mattress, so take off the sheets and look closely, turning back the edges of the mattress.

Also inspect the bedframe, paying careful attention to the corners and behind the headboard.

‘Bedbugs are attracted to oxygen so like to nest near your head,’ adds Mr Roux de Bezieux. They also congregate in plug sockets and under skirting boards.

Another sign of bedbugs are the small brown spots of their faeces on your bedding and furniture.

Q: If I discover I’ve been bitten, what should I do when I get home?

A: Mr Roux de Bezieux says: ‘Before you get into the house, place all your items in sealed ziplock bags and put them in the freezer for five days. This will give you complete certainty that any bugs are dead.’

For some items, the washing machine can also be an effective killer. ‘If you have clothes which can handle a hot wash of 60 degrees, do it. It’ll kill any bedbugs because they are very sensitive to the heat,’ says Prof Logan.

A vacuum cleaner is another useful tool. ‘Often when bedbugs arrive it’s hard to spot them for the first few weeks because they haven’t laid more eggs,’ says Mr Roux de Bezieux. ‘But this means there’s a chance you can manage them before they get everywhere.

‘The best thing to do is to take a vacuum cleaner and run it over all the cracks and crevices in your house. In the corners of the sofa, beneath picture frames, and underneath your night stand.

‘Follow up with a steamer, ensuring you get the vapour as deep into the gaps as possible. This can be enough to eliminate them.’

Q: So I don’t have to burn my mattress and clothes?

A: Of course not – mattresses and clothes can be salvaged as long as the right action is taken.

‘Bedbugs do not have the ability to burrow, so they can’t get somewhere which doesn’t have holes,’ says Mr Roux de Bezieux.

When asked why his compatriots were throwing out their mattresses in Marseille, he adds: ‘People don’t know how to deal with them.

‘Unless your house is overrun by millions of bugs, you can keep your mattress and your clothes.’

Q: Do I need to warn friends and colleagues if there’s a chance I’ve been invaded by bedbugs?

A: Yes. Experts warn that visiting someone else’s house is a common way that bedbugs spread, but if you think you have an infestation you don’t have to quarantine.

Mr Roux de Bezieux says: ‘Shine a light into coat pockets or the corners of bags before you leave the house to check for any bedbugs. They shouldn’t be too difficult to spot.

If you have bedbugs it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t leave the house, but you should be careful.’

Q: Is it true that insecticide is becoming ineffective against bedbugs?

A: Bedbugs are certainly getting harder to kill.

Parasites are able to evolve quickly, meaning that they can develop stronger defences, such as thicker, chemical-resistant exoskeletons.

But it does not appear that bedbugs have become resistant to extreme temperatures, which is why pest controllers will usually block off infested rooms and pump them full of either hot or freezing cold air.

Q: TikTok users have recommended some home remedies to kill the bugs. Are they worth a try?

A: No, and they could lead to lung damage or even a fire.

Some TikTok influencers have suggested spraying witch-hazel and rubbing alcohol over furniture to prevent bedbugs from nesting.

But pest expert Mark Thomas says: ‘While it could repel them for a short period, the effects would wear off before they die. Also, essential oils and rubbing alcohol are extremely flammable and can light from just a small spark, producing explosive results.’

Another online recommendation is a powder called diatomaceous earth – a natural pest repellent. While somewhat effective, inhaling it could be deadly.

‘I’ve heard of people putting the powder on their pillow or mattress, but this is very dangerous,’ says Mr Roux de Bezieux. ‘If you breathe it in, it can put holes in the lining of your lungs.’

Q: When should I call in the professionals?

A: ‘It’s understandable that people don’t want to pay for a pest controller when they get bitten, because the process is expensive,’ says Prof Logan. ‘But once they are there, the only option is to get a professional in. Otherwise they will keep breeding and coming back.’

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

Prof Logan adds: ‘Getting bedbugs can be psychologically exhausting, so it’s worth spending the money to be rid of them.’

  • Have you spotted bedbugs in your home or suspect an infestation? Write to us at: health@mailonsunday.co.uk 



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