Paris and beyond: Can you cancel because you’re worried about bedbugs?

It’s the travel itch — but not in a good way

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 10 October 2023 12:01 BST
Doctor Amir Khan explains how to get rid of bedbugs

“I was put in a boxy single hotel room at the end of a corridor, which I remember being cold and damp. A few days later I had bites – in a line, in threes. A GP friend said ‘that’s bed bugs’. Then I had an allergic reaction. It was horrible, and it took many weeks for the scars to disappear.”

The hotel in question was in London, not Paris – but the experience literally scarred this traveller. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), says: “Bedbugs, a problem worldwide, are resurging.”

Reports from Paris and elsewhere in France talk of an infestation by bedbugs. Some prospective visitors are seeking to cancel their trips and get their money back – and there are concerns about the problem getting worse ahead of the Paris Olympics next summer.

What’s going on with bedbugs?

Cimex lectularius, as they are known medically, are small insects (around 5mm long) that are rarely happier than when feasting on human blood – causing itchy bites that can be painful. The NHS warns bedbugs can hide on bed frames, mattresses, clothing, furniture, behind pictures and under loose wallpaper.

Reports from Paris and more widely in France talk about an infestation from bedbugs taking hold, with the parasites apparently increasingly resistant to insecticide. They can be transported inadvertently in travellers’ luggage. Paris is the capital of the world’s most visited country, so bedbugs have a fair chance of a trip to the city.

For people booked to the “City of Light”, what are their options?

It is difficult to know the extent by which social media may have exaggerated the current problem in Paris and beyond. But assuming there is genuinely a growing public health threat from the insects, I still cannot see any prospect of the UK government warning against travel to France as a result. Such a move is reserved for very serious health threats.

The NHS says with the rare exception of a severe allergic reaction there is no reason to worry if you are bitten. Unlike mosquitoes, which also enjoy dining out on “blood meals” from humans, bedbugs do not transmit disease. “Bites usually clear up on their own in a week or so,” the official advice says.

Isn’t there anything people can do?

Some fellow travellers say you should look for online reviews about your intended place to stay and see if bedbugs are mentioned. I am afraid that even if they are, and you are booked to go there, you will not be in a position to insist on a refund.

All you can do is travel to the destination and, on arrival at your accommodation, inspect the room for any sign of the nasty creatures. I accept that is not a great way to begin your stay.

Check in the fold of mattresses and sheets. Tell-tale signs, according to the CDC, include “bedbugs’ exoskeletons after moulting” and “rusty–coloured blood spots due to their blood-filled faecal material that they excrete on the mattress or nearby furniture”.

That may not be the start of a much-needed holiday you were dreaming of. But if you can prove the room is infested with bedbugs, you can reasonably expect a refund or a rebooking elsewhere.

Can anything be done to reduce the spread of bedbugs?

Yes, according to the Australian Youth Hostels Association. It tells prospective guests: “Sleeping bags are prohibited by Australian health regulations.” Many hostels, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, specifically ban travellers from bringing their own sleeping bags for fear of importing an infestation.

You’ve stayed in a few unusual places. How often have you encountered bedbugs?

Never, to my knowledge. Mosquitoes have always been the problem in terms of night bites – and they are much more lethal than bedbugs because of the diseases they transmit.

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