OCT 10, 2023 8:59 AM PDT

As Bedbugs Cause Problems in France, Researchers Ask If They're Disease Vectors

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

Bedbug is an umbrella term for about 90 bug species in the Cimicidae family. Only a few of these species commonly bite humans, like Cimex lectularius and the tropical bedbug, Cimex hemipterus.

Image credit: Pixabay

International travel is thought to have had a significant influence on an increase in bedbug outbreaks that seems to be occuring in recent times. In 2006, there was a 4,500 percent increase in bedbug infestations in Australia, according to pest control professionals. By 2012, it was estimated that at least one in five Americans had dealt with an infestation themselves or knew someone who had. These infestations can be found anywhere people sit or sleep, including cinemas, retail stores, and of course, beds. Dramatic measures may be required to eliminate infestations.

Bedbug bites cause immune reactions to the saliva of bedbugs, which leads to itching and redness in some people, no reaction in others, and in very rare cases, severe allergies. Some experts have said that there is no risk that either Cimex lectularius or Cimex hemipterus transmit pathogens to humans. A 2011 report by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists concluded that even though bedbugs have been investigated as vectors for pathogens, there has been no conclusive evidence that bedbugs are able to transmit disease. Cases also started to reappear in France in 2011, when a report asked whether bedbugs in Southern France were, "a local problem or the tip of the iceberg?"

However, other recent research has shown that bedbugs can carry over 40 different pathogens. These annoying insects bite people and animals, and are extremely difficult to control. The work of prefessionals is usually required to eliminate infestations.

A 2023 study reported that bedbugs could not only become carriers of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), they could also transmit these pathogenic microbes to another place. This was not direct confirmation that bedbugs can act as MRSA vectors, but it is troubling, especially for those facing infestations. The authors cautioned that this study did not demonstrate that the bedbugs are direct vectors, but that they could be encourage transmission in some settings.

Right now, France is dealing with a bedbug problem. The health minister urged caution and said there was not a bedbug invasion in September, but last Friday, the first deputy mayor of Paris, Emmanuel Grégoire said in a tweet that, "No one is safe." The bedbug problem in France has gotten bad enough to close seven schools.

"We have almost 60,000 institutions and we're only talking about a few dozen here, but it's true that cases are piling up," said Education Minister Gabriel Attal. "An immediate response is needed, so that we can have institutions treated within 24 hours."  

Bedbugs have been (unofficially) reported at the Charles de Gaulle airport, on French trains and the Paris metro. The government has now scheduled several "crisis" meetings to deal with the situation, which seems to be getting increased attention as the Rugby World Cup and 2024 Olympics will soon take place in France. Officials are still saying, however, that bedbugs pose no threat to these events. 

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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