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Paris Bed Bug Panic: Real or Hype?

"The bed bugs are falling! The bed bugs are falling!" It's a story with universal appeal across the globe and throughout the centuries. Chicken Little (Petit Poulet in French) screams out a warning to all who will listen that they're all in danger. Unfortunately, in the end, the warning and panic caused by it had more disastrous consequences than the original danger. There are some valuable lessons to be taken from the plight of the chicken and its friends.

I knew something was going on when people who never talk to me about bed bugs recently started asking me what I thought about Paris. For the past several months, we've heard similar warnings coming from the media that Paris is experiencing an unprecedented outbreak of bed bugs. There have been reports of bugs found in hotels, theaters, hospitals, and schools. People have posted pictures of bugs on buses and subways. Scientists have given their expert opinions in interviews. Politicians are making it a hot issue for campaigning. So this has to be a legitimate problem then, right?

There is even more of a spotlight on Paris right now because it will host the 2024 Olympics. Millions of people from all over the world will be traveling into the city to watch the games. Many are concerned that when those people return to their homes, they could turn this localized outbreak into a worldwide pandemic! What will the city do to wipe out the bugs before it's too late?

And besides the big event next year, millions of people travel to the City of Light as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Some have asked if they should cancel their trips? Others have suggested not bringing your clothes or luggage with you and to just travel with disposable belongings that can be tossed out after the trip. Instead of looking forward to a romantic getaway, it's as if they've booked a 7 night stay in Chernobyl.

So is it really as bad as we're making it out to be?

No. So why is there so much news about it? The answer is the bed bugs are great click bait. There is something about them that terrifies and fascinates us deeply and the media knows that. I know there hasn't been a Paris bed bugs headline that I haven't clicked on. But it's kind of my hobby, so what's your excuse? They're just hard to resist aren't they? And the more gross the story and the more nasty pictures included, the more we want to share it with our friends and family. Combine that with the Olympics happening next year and that just makes the public even more interested.

But am I saying that there's not really a bed bug problem in Paris? What about all of the pictures we've seen? Yes, I do believe Paris has a lot of bed bugs hiding around the city. I just don't have any reason to believe that they have any worse of a problem than every other major city in the world that has people constantly coming and going. That's where the sensationalism is happening. Making it seem like only in Paris do you have to worry about getting bugs. If you search any city followed by "bed bugs", you'll find an array of news stories and personal experiences of encounters with them in hotels, on public transportation, and anywhere people sit or rest. Paris is getting unfairly vilified as if they are the epicenter of all bed bug outbreaks and that's just not realistic.

Bed bugs have been a problem for many decades now all over the world. There are many theories as to why they've made a resurgence but the top ones have to do with changes to the chemicals we use to exterminate them, resistance to those chemicals, and an increase in world travel. I believe a lot of it has to do with the general public losing the knowledge and skills that our great grandparents had to deal with them as part of everyday life. To my generation, they were so uncommon that they became the things of legends and nursery rhymes. Whatever the cause, the numbers of bed bugs has been climbing exponentially, especially in the past 20 years. We were starting to hear about it in the early 2000's in large cities like New York and Chicago. But then COVID came and travel came to a halt and so did bug transmission. Now, people are making up for lost time and travel and tourism has rebounded and then some. But the bugs never went away. It was a smoldering fire waiting for a strong breeze to ignite and now we're seeing the flames raging all over the place. In the next 10 years, I expect half of you reading this will come into contact with bed bugs at some point, if you haven't already. It's a sad reality of the world we live in now.

So should you cancel your trip to France? By no means! Just take precautions like you would when traveling to any city in any country. Bring your good clothes and don't let fear of bed bugs distract you from enjoying an amazing place. When you get home, assume you've been exposed to bed bugs even if you think you haven't and treat your clothes and luggage accordingly. (See my suggestions on how to Travel Safely).

So the lesson is, don't believe everything you read on the internet (except for this article which you can completely trust!). And if you're giving away tickets to France, send them my way! I've always wanted to see the Olympics.

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