Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: bedbugs have taken over the city of Paris, and we are now faced with the prospect that the outbreak could travel overseas. The infestation began just before Paris Fashion Week (yes, these bugs have good taste), when reports broke of increased sightings of the insects in homes, cinemas, trains and even hospitals. Now, questions are being asked about the safety of traveling to and from Paris; what we can do to prevent the spread, and whether the critters are already settling in our mattresses. Below, we answer all your questions about travel and the bedbug spread.
Why are there so many bedbugs in Paris?
The city is no stranger to travelers—Paris is the world’s most-visited city with 44 million tourists in 2022. Nor is it a stranger to bedbugs: between 2017 and 2022, more than one in 10 French households reported bedbug infestations, according to ANSES, the French health and safety agency. But ANSES reports that the “upsurge in bed-bug infestations in recent years has been due in particular to the rise in travel and the increasing resistance of bedbugs to insecticides”. In other words, these particular bedbugs have mutated to become superbugs: they have evolved to create defenses and adaptations against certain chemicals typically used to destroy them.
The insects typically reside in mattresses and bed frames, lying in wait for humans to go to sleep before they crawl up and suck blood for their tea. But they can also travel via humans, hitching a ride on clothing, suitcases and hand luggage to travel the world and explore horizons new.
Can I travel to Paris during the bedbug infestation?
Yes. Paris is a big city, and while the infestation is being widely reported, it isn't everywhere. You can check with your hotel or property prior to arrival to ensure they don’t currently have an infestation, and ask what measures are in place to help guests. There is no guidance on the US government website to suggest that traveling to Paris is currently unsafe. Keep reading for top tips on how to check your hotel room for bedbugs and how to avoid taking them home.
How can I avoid getting bedbugs?
There are several ways to avoid getting bedbugs. “When people arrive in their hotel room, many place their suitcase straight onto the bed and start unpacking their clothes,” says Martin Seeley, CEO of MattressNextDay. “However, we would suggest keeping your suitcase off your bed as this is where bedbugs are most commonly found.” Instead, unpack using the luggage rack provided by certain hotels, or keep the suitcase close to the door. Remember to keep your dirty items of clothing separate—“research shows that bedbugs are more attracted to dirty clothes than to clean clothes. So, make sure to take a spare bag for your dirty clothing, and knot it each time you add to it,” says Martin. Plus, according to the British Pest Control Association (BPCA), “the ideal temperature for an adult bedbug to thrive is between 70-90°F, so it’s best to keep your room cool at night-time with air conditioning." Travelers would also do well to hard-cased luggage whenever possible, as it is more difficult for bedbugs to latch onto hard materials than fibrous fabric.
When you get home, make sure you unpack your clothes away from your bedroom, “ideally on a hard floor as you won’t be able to spot bedbugs in the carpet”, Martin tells us. Then check every corner of your suitcase for evidence of an infestation, and make sure you “wash every single item of clothing—even those you did not wear. If the washing labels of your clothes permit it, wash them in hot water.”
According to Bed Bug Specialist, “a combination of a hot wash cycle (the maximum allowed according to the labels of the clothes) along with detergent will be too much for the bedbugs”, but “the wash cycle has to be long enough, hot enough, and the detergent has to come in contact with the bugs and their eggs”. Research shows that “washing clothes at 140°F for 30 minutes terminates all bedbugs and eggs”.
How can I check my hotel room for bedbugs?
If you wake up with a series of itchy red bites, typically in a cluster or in a row, that is your first clear sign that your hotel could have bedbugs. If you spot any, they will look like small, brown-colored, flat-bodied insects. To try and tell if your hotel room has bedbugs before you sleep, there are a few things to look out for. According to Martin, a few tell-tale signs include “rust-colored dots on the mattress” from old squished bugs, eggs hidden in places (“they are a pale yellow color” about 1 millimeter wide”), or a “musty odor”, as “the smell excreted by bedbugs is certainly distinguishable”
Could bedbugs travel from Paris to New York City?
Condé Nast Traveller's original version of this article posed the question: Could the bedbugs travel from Paris to the United Kingdom? There, microbiologist and founder of Bed Bugs Ltd David Cain told Sky News, “I think there's probably a similar level of issue in London as there is in Paris at present.” The same can be said of New York City (and, in fact, anywhere in the US)—bedbugs are already in the United States, they always have been and likely always will be.
According to a study by pest control company Orkin, The Big Apple is second only to Chicago in number of bedbug treatments performed in 2022. Depending on how you think, this is either cause for alarm or relief with regard to the Parisian bugs. However, given that New York's public transit is not quite so decked out in upholstery—plastic being inhospitable to the bugs—you are unlikely to see the creepy crawlers emerging from the seatback in front of you as in this horrifying footage posted to Twitter.
Concern that bedbugs might spread to London was, of course, amplified by the fact that the two cities are well-connected by short and inexpensive train services. All American cities, on the other hand, are at least one flight away from the French capital, begging the question: Can bedbugs catch flights? The answer is yes, absolutely—both in the clothes of passengers as well as in the luggage hold. This story in The Points Guy unpacks the particulars of an infestation borne from luggage in great detail, and anecdotal evidence from Traveler editors who shall remain nameless tell horror stories of picking up not just bedbugs but also lice while in the air.
A version of this article originally appeared in Condé Nast Traveller.