From hotel rooms to trains to movie theaters, Paris — one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world — seems to be. Reports of bedbugs plaguing hotels and rental apartments first flared up over the summer, and now Paris is coping with an infestation just 10 months before the French capital is set to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
If you're planning a trip there, or anywhere bedbugs could be a problem, experts say there are some ways to protect yourself.
For travelers, the first step is to be on the lookout.
Full-grown bedbugs are brown or reddish-brown with an oval-shaped body about the size of an apple seed, the EPA says, while their young are much smaller, translucent or whitish-yellow, and can be very hard to see. Bedbugs come out at night to feed on human blood.
When you arrive at a hotel or vacation rental, do a thorough search of the bed — underneath it, behind the bed frame, on the sides of the mattress and in between the mattress and frame.
Dr. Karan Lal, a double board certified dermatologist and Society for Pediatric Dermatology member, also suggests traveling with a little spray bottle of isopropyl alcohol to help check your inspection.
"If there are bedbugs, they will come out because they don't like rubbing alcohol," he says.
You can also look for blood stains or small black dots that look like mold or ground pepper, Christine Johnson, a behavioral ecologist in the American Museum of Natural History's Division of Invertebrate Zoology,.
Keeping your belongings off the ground in your accommodations is another way to prevent bedbugs from hitching a ride. Instead, opt to place items on the tops of dressers or other spots higher up.
Since the critters are less likely to be found in the bathroom, where tile floors are less inviting, you may choose to leave your luggage there, some experts suggest.
Also keep your eyes out on trains and other modes of transportation where bedbugs may be lurking, and opt to stand if you wish to avoid extra contact with seats or other surfaces.
Once back home, don't bring your suitcases inside right away. Lal suggests keeping them in your garage for a few days and then washing your clothes on a high temperature.
You might also consider wrapping your suitcases in plastic as a way to make sure nothing goes in or out.
Can you see bedbugs with the naked eye?
Bedbugs are tiny, but they are visible to the naked eye. They can spread easily and love to hide in mattresses or other soft furnishings like upholstery or curtains. They can also crawl between floorboards, in electrical sockets and even behind wallpaper.
In a busy city like Paris, tourists can unwittingly pick up the pesky passengers in their suitcases from an infested hotel; bedbugs can hitchhike on clothing or bags and spread to others on the metro or bus or on a visit to the theater or other locations around town.
The good news is they don't travel on people, Lal explains.
"It's not like scabies, which is a mite infestation that is contagious. Bedbug infestation is not contagious," he says. "You can bring them with you in your clothing and your bedding if you're going to a place but ... if you have bedbug bites, you can't pass it on to anybody."
Exterminators say it's vital to act quickly if you spot bedbugs. All clothes and bed linens that could have been in contact should be placed in garbage bags and closed tight, and then the items should be laundered on a high temperature setting.
How can you tell if it's a bedbug bite?
When determining if a bite came from a bedbug, Lal says to look for the "breakfast, lunch and dinner" sign.
"They bite in lines or clusters of three. If you see clusters of three around your body, especially areas where you are not clothed ... that's most likely to be a bedbug infestation," he says, adding it may take several days for the marks to appear.
The bites themselves often look like red bumps, but can also vary slightly person to person.
Bedbugs can be attracted to some people more than others, Lal says, meaning it's not out of the ordinary for a couple sharing a bed to only have one person bitten.
Can bedbugs impact your health?
While you won't catch any diseases from bedbugs, they can cause significant reactions in certain people, Lal says. Itching or other skin reactions can occur, but not everyone feels symptoms.
People who may be more susceptible to reactions from bedbug bites include children and chemotherapy patients.
"Their immune systems are not as strong, and so their body reacts in this wide manifestation where they can actually develop an allergic reaction to the bedbugs," Lal explains.
Where do bedbugs come from?
Experts stress that hygiene has nothing to do with the spread of bedbugs — instead, the bugs' high fertility rate means that once they find somewhere to eat and reproduce, they spread rapidly.
"Bedbugs were here before us, and they will be here after us. They're everywhere," Lal says. "You can go to the best hotels in Manhattan... I've seen bedbugs. There have been bugs everywhere."
A report published over the summer by France's national food, environment and work hygiene organization, Anses, noted that there were two main culprits behind the recent proliferation of bedbugs in France — an increase in tourism and greater resistance to insecticides.
Elaine Cobbe contributed reporting.
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