Experts have warned that failing to tackle Britain’s growing bed bug problem will herald a return of Victorian-era infestations.
An outbreak of blood-sucking parasites has been reported in Paris, and residents and tourists have taken to social media to post images of the insects, which are about the size of an apple seed, crawling across train seats and hotel sheets.
The deputy mayor of Paris, Emmanuel Grégoire, stated last week that “no one is safe” from the “scourge” of bedbugs, whose bites cause painful itching and even permanent scars.
Meanwhile, some have suggested that the bedbug infestation could easily spread from Paris to London via the Eurostar. The train line has confirmed that it is now checking all departures from Paris (16 each day) for small insects that often hide in fabrics.
But specialists who spoke to the MoS said the UK already has a growing bed bug problem that can no longer be controlled with conventional insecticides. And studies suggest that bed bug cases have increased by a quarter in the last 15 years.
PLAGIARISM: Bedbugs have spread in Paris hotels and trains, but there are already record infestations in the UK
So, to what extent should we be concerned about bed bug attacks?
QUESTION: I thought bed bugs only existed in the bedroom. How did Paris become infested?
ANSWER: Despite their name, bed bugs hide in many places, including bed frames, mattresses, clothing, and cracks in walls.
“If you see them on your sheets, they have probably already infiltrated deep into the mattress and also into your furniture,” says Natalie Bungay of the British Pest Control Association. “At that point they become incredibly difficult to remove and can also spread easily.”
Bed bugs typically spread when they get into clothing or bags that are then taken somewhere else.
People may not notice an infestation at first because the insects typically bite (for a blood meal) at night. The bites appear as raised red bumps, often in a straight line, but they are not initially itchy and most people only feel them the next day. This means they can spread quickly before people realize 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 is also due to the fact that bed bugs are becoming more difficult to exterminate.
“The insecticides we have used for decades to combat these insects can no longer always be trusted,” says Professor James Logan, an insect expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and chief executive of research company Arctech Innovation. . “In many places, bed bugs have evolved to resist these toxic chemicals.”
QUESTION: Should we be worried that these French bed bugs could reach the UK?
ANSWER: Some of the bed bugs from Paris are likely to 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 bed bugs and regularly cleaning seats.
Despite their name, bed bugs hide in many places, including bed frames, mattresses, clothing, and cracks in walls.
Telltale signs that you have the error
Bed bugs can often be difficult to spot due to their small size, but their bites are usually easy to spot.
Blood-sucking parasites usually come out at night, meaning their bites, as shown in the image to the right, usually appear in the morning. They are usually red, itchy, and no larger than a penny. However, some people may have a reaction to the bites that can cause painful swelling.
Bites often cluster or form a line on an area of skin exposed while sleeping, such as the face, neck, and arms.
One of the most common signs of bed bugs is small brown spots on bedding or furniture, which are bed bug feces. To look for bugs, check the seams and labels of the mattress, as well as cracks in the bed frame.
They can also hide in the seams of chairs and sofas or in the folds of curtains.
But experts say we should be more concerned about the bed bugs that are already here. A study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that, between 2008 and 2015, the number of reported infestations in the UK increased by 25 per cent.
“It’s probably increased further since then,” says Professor Logan.
According to the British Pest Control Association, there are approximately 12,000 bed bug-related notices each year. And experts say these outbreaks are increasingly difficult to address.
“Two decades ago a pest controller would show up, spray the house and that would be it,” Mrs Bungay says. “We are now hearing about a record number of cases where they have to return repeatedly because the insects just won’t die.”
QUESTION: But bed bugs are just insects: how can it be that they are more difficult to kill?
ANSWER: Bed bugs are evolving to resist the insecticides 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) caused the number of bed bug cases in the UK and other developed countries to fall dramatically.
But in the 1990s, outbreaks in the United Kingdom began to spike again. Experts say this is because bed bugs evolve quickly, meaning they develop stronger defenses against insecticides over time.
QUESTION: I know bed bugs can be painful, but can they make me sick?
ANSWER: Bed bugs have long been suspected of carrying diseases, but there is no clear evidence that this is the case.
Research has suggested that they can transmit hepatitis B, which can damage the liver. And in August, American scientists published a study showing that bed bugs were capable of carrying MRSA, a type of bacteria that can cause death, although they could not prove that the insects could transmit the disease to humans.
However, experts say the most serious health risk from bed bugs is usually self-inflicted.
“When you have hundreds of these bites, your first reaction is to scratch them,” says Professor Logan. ‘But this can open wounds in the skin that can become infected. People can end up seriously ill in hospital with these infections.’
Antihistamine tablets, such as Piriton, can reduce itching and steroid creams can also help.
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QUESTION: If insecticides don’t work, how can I get rid of bed bugs?
ANSWER: Getting rid of bed bugs can be complicated and is not cheap.
As parasites are increasingly resistant to traditional insecticides, exterminators must employ several techniques.
The most common is to seal off affected rooms and fill them with hot air, which kills most of the insects. Then the exterminators spray insecticides.
This process can cost around £600 and take several weeks.
Professor Logan has developed a bed bug trap, BugScents, which uses pheromones emitted by insects to attract them so that the user can call an exterminator to take care of the rest.
“The trick is to catch them early, before they start laying eggs,” he says. ‘We should implement more traps and alert systems to address the problem.
“But we also need to develop new insecticides to prevent infestations from becoming common again.”