France is on bed bug alert after the insect has been found spreading across Île-de-France in particular, following the return from holidays earlier this month.
In Paris, specially-trained dogs are being used to sniff out bed bugs, as the insects are often too small – or too good at hiding – to be seen by humans.
The infestation is thought to have arrived in France following the summer holiday season, when many people will have travelled abroad to youth hostels, Airbnbs or hotels that may have been infested.
Holiday destinations have been described as “real hotbeds” for the bugs, due to many holidaymakers travelling to stay from across the world, bringing the bugs with them.
Bed bugs and their eggs can live in mattresses, including in the seams and in corners, where they are more difficult to see; but also live on humans, in clothes and in suitcases for a short while, making their spread across the world much easier.
One bed bug can lay up to 500 eggs in its life.
Humans usually only realise they have an infestation after waking up covered in tiny bites from the live bugs.
It may be possible to avoid bringing them home with you from holiday by ensuring that you check your suitcase for insects, and wash all of your luggage at a high temperature before going to bed.
Once infested, sometimes steaming the mattress and simply washing all sheets and towels is enough to get rid of the bugs, but more often it requires multiple treatments with insecticide to kill them completely.
Emilie Gaultier, a dog handler in Paris, has been inspecting apartments with her trained dog, Maggie.
She said: “We train the dogs everyday to sniff out living bugs, but they can also smell dead ones. [To treat the problem] you must do a chemical treatment. In this way, the insect comes out of its hiding place, walks into the product, and dies. And you have to treat the whole apartment, not just the bed.”
One woman, Anne from Boulogne-Billancourt, said she has had to treat her apartment twice with insecticide, and has had to move all of her family’s belongings elsewhere pending the treatment.
She and her husband have been sleeping on a blow-up airbed in the meantime, and her children’s school bags and belongings are being kept in closed-off boxes with double-sided tape on them to encourage the bugs to get stuck and die.
She said: “It has been very difficult psychologically. We sleep badly at night. We are not living in the same way.”