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Paris' bedbug problem could spread to Estonia

Parisians are plagued by bedbugs ahead of the Olympics.
Parisians are plagued by bedbugs ahead of the Olympics. Source: SCANPIX/REUTERS/MANUEL AUSLOOS

Paris is fighting a bedbug infestation. The parasites can be found in the subway and hospitals. With so many people traveling, the problem may spread to other European countries.

Nobody knows why there are now so many bedbugs (Cimex lectularius) in Paris. Mati Martin, an entomologist at the University of Tartu Natural History Museum, said that it is quite usual for some species to reproduce in high numbers for unknown reasons.

Bedbugs are parasites that feed on the blood of their victims. They are from the Mediterranean region and like warm weather. As a result, human dwellings are an ideal habitat for them.

One of the causes for the abundance of bed bugs could be the emergence of a novel mutation that enhances its activity. Also, people are traveling more frequently. Martin said that travelers to Paris can bring bedbugs back to Estonia in their luggage. However, he said that the problem will not spread as widely in Estonia, because its larvae prefers warmth, but the heating season is still an excellent time for them.

"Bed bugs have a habit of seeking out new victims. When a new person enters a hotel room on a trip, the bed bugs sense a new presence. The same has been observed with fleas; when a stranger arrives, the flea, which lives in peace with the locals, immediately goes to see who has arrived, and in this way is led to other habitats," he said.

It has been reported in the foreign media that many Parisians are reluctant to admit they have bedbugs in their homes for fear of being considered unclean. However, Martin said that the spread of bedbugs has nothing to do with hygiene or lack thereof. "It's like lice. People are ashamed of them too, but there's nothing you can do about it when they come. It's just the way of nature that parasites find their victims," he said.

Martin pointed out that some people develop insect immunity after encountering parasites. According to him, the bedbugs have no effect on these individuals, but their bites typically cause red patches on victim's skin.

Bed bug (Cimex lectularius). Autor/allikas: CDC/ Harvardi ülikool

It is difficult to get rid of bedbugs. These parasites are nocturnal and hide in holes such as electrical sockets throughout the day. If poison is sprayed throughout the region it may not reach all locations. Bedbugs can lay up to 500 eggs in their lifetimes.

The issue with poison is that it has no effect on the eggs. "When the larvae die, the eggs survive and hatch into new larvae," he explained. "Eggs can take several months to develop, thus the house has to be treated again after a few months.

DDT can be used to control bed bugs, but it was outlawed because it was harmful to humans and other animals. The new protections are less severe and do not provide much protection against bed bugs. This could explain the tremendous growth in their numbers.

If you are traveling and there is a chance of being exposed to bedbugs, Martin recommends checking your suitcase outside before bringing it into your room. And if possible, the luggage could be placed in a warm sauna, heating it to 60-70 degrees, soon following the journey; at this temperature its larvae dies.

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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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