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France’s health minister says country not ‘invaded by bedbugs’ and urges calm

By Chris Liakos, Maya Szaniecki, Claudia Colliva and Xiaofei Xu, CNN

Paris (CNN) — France’s health minister has assured the French public that there’s “no reason for widespread panic” as Paris reports a “widespread” rise in bedbugs.

Speaking to French radio station France Inter, Aurelien Rousseau condeded that “when you see them around you, when you have bedbugs in your home, it’s a nightmare” but assured listeners that “we haven’t been invaded by bedbugs.”

The National Institute for the Study and Control of Bedbugs (INELP) told CNN on Monday that the level of bedbug infestation in France is worse than previous years but treatable.

“Bedbugs have been increasingly present in France for two or three years now, regularly peaking in the summer. But this year, we’ve gone beyond all other years,” INELP president Marie Effroy said, adding that the jump started “at the end of August, beginning of September.”

Effroy went on to say that “there’s a bedbug problem, but at the same time, there’s a kind of paranoia going on because people hear about bedbugs.”

When asked about the recent reported sightings, Effroy said people “see bedbugs everywhere,” but added that “sometimes it’s not bedbugs.”

Measures to be strengthened

Earlier this week the French government vowed action to “reassure and protect” the public.

The French transport ministry confirmed to CNN that transport minister Clement Beaune will convene a meeting on Wednesday to take stock of the situation and “to strengthen measures” following the reported surge in numbers of the blood-sucking insect.

French transport operators say they remain “vigilant” about bedbugs following reports of what were said to be sightings in public transport.

RATP, the operator behind the Parisian metro, told CNN on Monday that “each sighting is taken into account and is subject to a treatment,” adding that “these last few days, there have been no proven cases of bedbugs recorded in our equipment.”

RATP added that a report was made on Wednesday last week but after an assessment “no presence of bedbugs was recorded on the train.”

Railway company SNCF – which operates many trains in the country including the Eurostar – told CNN that it “takes reports of pests very seriously” but that “to date we have not observed any presence or proven reports of bedbugs.”

There have been recent calls for government action from Paris officials and trade unions after several videos of bedbugs circulated on social media. In the videos, the bedbugs were said to be spotted on public transport and other public locations, such as cinemas.

Speaking to French TV station LCI on Friday, deputy mayor of Paris Emmanuel Gregoire called the phenomenon “widespread.”

“You have to understand that in reality no one is safe, obviously there are risk factors but in reality, you can catch bedbugs anywhere and bring them home,” he said.

‘Emerging phenomenon’

Three years ago, the French government launched an anti-bedbug campaign, which includes a dedicated website and an information hotline, as numbers of the insect surged.

But Gregoire said that despite that plan, “there are 3.6 million people who come into Paris every day, and bedbugs do not stop on the outskirts of the city.”

An expert from France’s national health and sanitary body, Anses, said the problem was “an emerging phenomenon in France and almost everywhere in the world.”

“It’s mainly due to the movement of people, populations traveling, the fact that people stay in short-term accommodation and bring back bedbugs in their suitcases or luggage,” Johanna Fite from the Anses department of risk assessment told CNN.

She added there was an “escalation” in numbers because bedbugs were increasingly resistant to insecticides.

“We are observing more and more bedbug populations which are resistant, so there is no miracle treatment to get rid of them,” Fite said.

French health minister Aurelien Rousseau also dimissed the idea that the rise in bedbugs is related to imigration.

“It’s got nothing to do with immigration, it’s related to movement, when you come back from abroad you might bring bedbugs back with you,” he told radio station French Inter.

Meanwhile, the Paris deputy mayor warned against “hysteria” over the issue, noting there had been an “increase in Parisians who are referring to the town hall’s information services for information on bedbugs”.

“Professional companies which intervene in residential areas are telling us that currently the proportion of interventions for bedbugs is atypical compared to normal and is increasing rapidly,” he said.

The news comes as Paris gets ready to host the 2024 Olympics Games, but officials say they are not worried.

“There is no threat to the Olympic Games,” Gregoire said.

“Bedbugs existed before and they will exist afterward,” he added, saying the games were an “opportunity” for everybody to work together on the issue.

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