"Like Covid with legs" — bedbug infestation in Paris is driving people to extreme behavior

The City of Light is experiencing an outbreak of bedbugs that has sparked panic and paranoia among Parisians. Emmanuel Grégoire, Paris' deputy mayor, called the outbreak "widespread," warning, "no one is safe," according to a report in The Evening Standard, which says Parisians are "saying they feel like 'plague victims' and social media [is] crawling with footage of the critters inside hotel rooms, cinemas, and on public transport, including at Charles de Gaulle Airport."

The city is conducting an inter-ministerial bedbug crisis meeting today.

But is the problem as bad as everyone thinks it is, or is it a case of the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon? Though the increase in bedbug infestations this year is modest, estimated at 10% higher than previous years, the hysteria far outweighs the reality, according to pest control specialists and entomologists interviewed by The New York Times.

  • Jean-Michel Bérenger, France's leading bedbug expert, calls it a "real psychosis," with anxious residents imagining infestations and calling for inspections even with no bites or evidence of bugs.
  • "Bedbugs have this magic ability to take any baggage or anxiety you have and focus it," said Emilie Gaultier, co-owner of a French canine bedbug detecting company.
  • "I've never seen a panic like this," said Thibault Buckley of a bedbug detection agency.

Londoners, who have long harbored an imaginary phobia of the hygienic habits of their continental neighbors, fear picking up hitchhiking bedbugs from Paris which has increased cleaning efforts in response. This morning, The Independent posted a photo of a Eurostar (a train that connects Paris and London) passenger wearing a hazmat suit. (See video below.)

But London pest controllers say bedbugs are already common in both cities. "The truth is bedbugs are nothing new… Londoners have just become used to existential crises, they prepare themselves for the worst," Dr. Hana Patel told The Standard.

The Independent reports that, "Prior to the latest French 'plague', in August this year it was reported that a bedbug epidemic was 'sweeping the UK' after pest control company Rentokil highlighted a 65 per cent increase year-on-year in infestations across the country."