UK 'not ready' for an invasion of bed bugs, warns top disaster expert
Britain is ‘not ready’ for an invasion of bed bugs, warns leading disaster expert as UK commuters avoid sitting on trains amid fears of possible insect influx from France
- Has YOUR house been infested by bed bugs? Email [email protected]
Britain is not prepared for an invasion of bed bugs, a leading disaster expert has warned.
Professor Lucy Easthope, who has worked on the response to global events including the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire and Covid-19, put out the stark warning amid growing fears that France’s bed bug crisis could hit the UK.
Awareness to the problem was first raised last week as it emerged Parisians were experiencing a ‘living hell’ fighting off a plague of the insects that feed on the blood of animals and humans.
With commuters already avoiding seats on public transport amid fears that the French outbreak could spread to the UK, Professor Easthope warned on X, formerly Twitter: ‘I promise you this… Britain is not ready for an invasion of bed bugs.’
In a second tweet, the Professor in Practice of Risk and Hazard at the University of Durham revealed how she once got caught up in a bed bug outbreak in Knoxville, Tennessee, adding: ‘The lengths you have to go to get rid of them is arduous. Ditching your bed is not enough.’
Britain is not prepared for an invasion of bed bugs, leading disaster expert Professor Lucy Easthope (pictured) has warned
Britons have been sharing several videos of suspected bed bugs on social media as fears grow
Professor Lucy Easthope, who has worked on the response to global events including the 9/11 and 7/7 attacks, the Grenfell Tower fire and the Covid-19 pandemic, put out the stark warning amid fears of a bed bug invasion from France
It emerged yesterday that the bed bug plague in France has seen families in Marseille dump their infested mattresses out into the streets in a desperate attempt to rid themselves of the pests.
Who is Professor Lucy Easthope?
The stark warning that Britain is ‘not ready’ for a bed bug invasion comes from a highly respectable disaster expert.
She is a professor in the practice of risk and hazard at Durham University and the UK’s – if not the world’s – leading authority on recovering from disaster, in which capacity she advises the Government, writes the plans, supervises the responses, builds mortuaries, liaises with families, arranges identification and repatriation of bodies and organises burials.
Professor Easthope has worked on huge global events over the last two decades including the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, 9/11, 7/7, Fukushima, 2011, Grenfell and Covid-19.
In her book, When The Dust Settles: Stories Of Love, Loss And Hope From An Expert In Disaster, she is critical of the Government cuts during the coalition years, which resulted in adverse changes to disaster management, replacing action with ‘behavioural insights’ teams and concern about ‘optics’.
Her assessment of everything that went wrong with Grenfell is damning, and she is highly critical of the Government’s woeful response to the coronavirus pandemic, an ‘overdue’ event that had seemingly been expected for years.
Professor Easthope’s comments come after London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the issue was a ‘real source of concern’ and that he had contacted officials in Paris after the French capital became overwhelmed by an outbreak with the insects reported in schools, trains, hospitals and cinemas.
Over the last few days in Britain, Tube passengers have refused to sit on seats, and the local authority in Luton said it had received an ‘alarming number’ of calls about the insects. Elsewhere, a bed bug was supposedly spotted on a bus in Manchester on Monday.
There are also worries over an outbreak, not least because rugby fans are travelling to and from France for the World Cup – with England playing Fiji in the quarter-final in Marseille on Sunday.
Concerns have grown over an infestation in London after a video went viral over the weekend of what was claimed to be a bed bug on a person’s leg on the Victoria line.
But some experts have disputed whether the creature is indeed a bed bug, with one saying it was not ‘flat enough’ and another saying that the clip ‘looks wrong.’
Another commuter shared a video on TikTok of what they claimed was a bed bug on a Central line train in west London – but, again, this has not been verified by experts.
A different passenger posted a video from the Northern line, saying they would not sit down because they saw what they thought were bed bug eggs on the seat material.
Transport for London (TfL) is disinfecting seats daily after videos circulated on social media showing train seats on the Paris Metro crawling with the blood-sucking bugs, fuelling concerns that they will still be a problem when the city hosts the Olympics.
However, Richard Wall, from the University of Bristol’s School of Biological Sciences, said the insect in the Victoria line video was not ‘flat enough’ to be a bed bug.
He told Metro.co.uk: ‘I’m also pretty confident that it’s not a tick either (too big). It’s worth noting that bed bugs are largely nocturnal.’
🇬🇧Bed Bug Eggs in Northern Line tube in London. #bedbugs #londontube #london #londontravel #uk #chinese #asian #public #publictransport
I cannie believe this is my life now #londontiktok #bedbugs #londontube #tfl #foryou #fyp
Some commuters have taken to TikTok to say they are concerned about sitting on Tube seat
Minding my own business on the victoria line, a f**king bed bug is on my leg. Said he’d got a great deal on the eurostar and wondered if I could take him home. No!! Sort it out @Transport for London #bedbugs #bedbugslondon #bedbugsparis #tube #infestation
And Adam Juson from the pest control company Merlin Environmental said the apparent bed bug did not appear to be real.
He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘It does look sort of like a bed bug but the video is not really good enough to ID from. The bug is not mobile so this could be a remnant from a treatment or one that has got caught on the person’s clothes.
READ MORE Bed bugs may be lurking in your CARPET – how to check and get rid of them once and for all
‘We have found bed bugs on trains in the past so it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility but this looks wrong.’
But David Cain, molecular biologist and founder of Bed Bugs Ltd, told Sky News: ‘There’s been a lot of attention, people worrying about bed bugs coming across from France. But the reality is we already have a large enough problem in the UK.
‘Just yesterday there were videos of people showing bed bugs crawling on people on the Tube system in London. So the thing that sparked all the concern in Paris is already happening in London.’
Mr Cain added: ‘Because the problem has exploded so rapidly over the last decade – they’re now in public spaces, cinemas, doctor’s surgeries, hospitals, all over the place, you then have to check your own bed.
‘The reality is we spend an average of 180 hours a month sleeping in our beds. So we really should give them the respect of 30 minutes once a month to clean them.’
Mr Khan said he was concerned, but TfL was doing everything it could to ensure the bed bug infestation in France does not spread to public transport in London.
He told PoliticsJOE: ‘This is a real source of concern, right? People are worried about these bugs in Paris causing a problem in London.
A bed bug was also supposedly spotted on a bus in Manchester following an outbreak in Paris
‘I was in contact with TfL last week and this weekend. We’re taking steps to make sure we don’t have those problems in London, in relation to regular cleaning of not just the Tubes and our buses, but talking to the Eurostar as well.
Why are bedbugs infesting France – and are they on the march?
The French government is battling to contain a bout of nationwide panic over bedbugs in Paris just nine months before the capital hosts next summer’s Olympic Games.
Between 2017 and 2022, more than one in ten French households had been infested with bedbugs, the country’s health authority says.
A pest control companies’ organisation in France said bedbug callouts in the June to August period were up 65 per cent on the same period last year.
Several decades ago, bedbugs were kept in check by cheap and potent insecticides – but many, including DDT, were later found to be dangerous to human health and banned.
Bedbugs have successfully developed resistance to other, milder insecticides, scientists have said.
The latest rebound in bedbug numbers in Paris is in part down to a revival in tourism in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Bedbugs are often carried in clothing and baggage.
Now, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has said the threat of France’s bedbug outbreak spreading to the capital’s public transport network is ‘a real source of concern’.
There have been videos shared on TikTok of bedbugs on the Underground in recent days, but none have been fully verified by experts at this stage.
However, the problem may already be set in, with molecular biologist David Cain, founder of Bed Bugs Ltd, saying: ‘The reality is we already have a large enough problem in the UK.’
He added: ‘The thing that sparked all the concern in Paris is already happening in London.’
‘TfL have one of the best regimes to clean our assets on a nightly basis. We’re speaking to our friends in Paris to see if there are any lessons to be learned. For a variety of reasons we don’t think those issues will arise in London – but no complacency from TfL.’
In a separate interview with ITV News, he said that TfL was conducting ‘world-leading’ cleaning and warned Brits to stay ‘vigilant’.
‘The good news is there is no evidence of those issues in London,’ he added. ‘There is no complacency at all – lots of preventative measures.
‘I want to reassure everybody public transport is safe in London but we have to keep on being vigilant to make sure all steps that can be taken are taken to make sure we’re not seeing in London what we are seeing in France.’
In Manchester, a passenger claimed to have seen a bedbug on the 59 bus from Piccadilly Gardens to Oldham Mumps.
They tweeted First Bus to say: ‘Your 59 to Oldham Mumps has bedbugs. I suggest you do something about this quickly lol.’
First Bus responded, saying: ‘This is really concerning to see, and we do apologise for this.’ It added that it would report the incident to the depot management team.
Elsewhere, Luton Council’s website warned residents it ‘does not have limitless resources’ to tackle the ‘obnoxious pest’, adding treating properties was ‘not free’.
It said: ‘The national bed bug problem has not missed Luton. The Pest Control Service is currently receiving an alarming number of bed bug jobs on a weekly basis.’
Homeowners who arrange a visit from an exterminator need to strip beds completely and put everything ‘into sealed bin liners and placed in the bath for storage’.
Wardrobes, drawers and bookcases must also be emptied and the contents stored securely in the same way. Even pictures and posters need to be ‘off the walls and available for inspection’ and furniture pulled away from walls.
People and pets must evacuate their homes while they are sprayed with insecticide, which ‘can be a lengthy process’.
The council, which has not released figures about the number of reports received, added: ‘You should be aware that no insecticides are completely safe and it is for this reason that the council expect full cooperation from you.’
Meanwhile Dee Patel, an entomologist, told BBC Three Counties Radio that lavender deterred bed bugs. He added: ‘Lavender oil masks their scent pattern and they can’t cope with it.’
He also advised washing linen at high temperatures, vacuuming often and freezing sheets.
Across the Channel, France’s transport minister Clement Beaune has gathered transport operators to discuss ways in which to better protect commuters.
Last week, Eurostar said it will disinfect its trains – of which 16 a day run from Paris to London – at the first sign of bed bugs.
A Eurostar spokesman said: ‘The safety and wellbeing of our customers is always our number one priority, and the presence of insects such as bed bugs on our trains is extremely rare.
What are bed bugs and how do they spread?
- Bed bugs are oval-shaped insects with six legs that can reach up to 7mm in length
- The parasites originated in the Middle East and have been around for at least 3,550 years
- They feed on blood and their bites can leave skin rashes and cause allergic reactions
- Despite their Latin name being Cimex lectularius which means ‘bug of the bed’, the insects can be found in many hidden crevices such as sofas and cushions as these are safe places to lay their eggs
- The pests can live for several months without a blood meal, meaning they can linger in furniture and suitcases for long after their last bite
- Common signs you might have bed bugs include: Rusty or reddish smears on your sheets, dark spotting from dried bed bug fecal matter, a musty smell in your room
- Bed bugs can spread via light switches and electrical outlets and be brought into homes by latching on to luggage
- While bed bugs cause itching and a lack of sleep, they are not known to spread disease and bites normally clear up within two weeks
‘The textile surfaces on all of our trains are cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis. This involves hot-water injection and extraction cleaning, which has proven highly effective in eliminating bugs.
‘Any reports on hygiene matters are taken very seriously, and our cleaning teams, in addition to the usual cleaning, will also disinfect a train on request or as soon as there is the slightest doubt.’
Also last week Mathilde Panot, an MP and leader of the Left-wing France Unbowed party, took a test tube full of dead bed bugs into French parliament to raise her concerns about the outbreak.
Ms Panot said that bed bugs were ‘proliferating in all daily living spaces: Hospitals, schools, workplaces, retirement homes, prisons, trains and even cinema theatres’.
She added: ‘They are making the lives of millions of our fellow citizens a living hell.’
TfL has confirmed that it is monitoring trains and buses for any indication that the infestation could have reached the UK.
A TfL spokesman said: ‘We are continuing to closely monitor our network but are not aware of any outbreaks in London.
‘We are continuing to implement our rigorous and thorough cleaning measures that have been proven to keep both the interior and exterior of our trains clean.
‘We are committed to providing a clean and safe environment on our bus, Tube and rail service for our customers and staff, and we would like to reassure our customers that we continue to maintain our already high standards of cleanliness, so our staff and customers can use the network safely and with confidence.’
Data released by pest-control company Rentokil in September showed that from 2022 to 2023, there was a 65 per cent increase in bed bug infestations.
A pest control technician sprays an insecticide under a mattress in Paris last Wednesday
A bed bug is seen on a glove of a biocide technician from Hygiene Premium in Paris last month
Products used to eradicate bed bugs at the Hygiene Premium pest control shop in Paris
Bed bugs, which are about the size of an apple pip, feed on animal blood and their bites can cause swelling and itching but rarely lead to complications. As well as beds, they can also be found on clothing and furniture.
Millennium Hotels and Resorts, which operates 18 hotels in the UK, has been asking new guests whether they have travelled from France, according to staff at one of its London hotels.
And staff at the five-star Renaissance Hotel at St Pancras station, the London Eurostar terminus, said no bedbugs have been detected there but staff have received training during the last fortnight on how to spot the pests.
Air France also said if suspected bedbugs are reported on board one of its flights ‘the aircraft would be grounded and a specialist team would immediately be dispatched to confirm or rule out the presence of these insects’.
Bed bugs are seen in the seams of a sofa bed in L’Hay-les-Roses near Paris on September 29
Air France said it will ground any aircraft if bedbugs are detected on board (file picture)
Eurostar said its trains are to be disinfected if there is the ‘slightest doubt’ of infestation
Meanwhile experts warned over the weekend that failing to tackle Britain’s growing bedbug problem will herald a return of Victorian-era infestations.
Professor James Logan, an insect expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and chief executive of research firm Arctech Innovation, told the Mail on Sunday: ‘The insecticides we’ve used for decades to fight these bugs can’t always be relied on any more.
‘Bedbugs in many places have evolved to resist these toxic chemicals.’
He added: ‘The trick is to catch them early before they begin laying eggs. We should be implementing more traps and alert systems to tackle the problem.
‘But we also need to develop new insecticides to avoid infestations becoming commonplace again.’
In France, concerns over the crisis have led to French officials holding crisis talks about the increase in bed bugs, with ministers in Emmanuel Macron’s government promising to ‘rapidly bring answers’ for the public.
The deputy mayor of Paris, Emmanuel Gregoire, last week claimed that ‘no one is safe’ from the ‘scourge’ of bedbugs.
The British Pest Control Association said there were now roughly 12,000 call-outs related to the issue every year.
The sale of second-hand furniture, on sites such as Facebook and eBay, is also suspected to be exacerbating the problem.
* Has your house been infested by bed bugs? Please email: [email protected] *
What is the problem?
Bedbugs are no strangers to the UK but there have been concerns about sightings in London, Luton and Manchester, suggesting the problem is widespread and growing.
Pest control firm Rentokil says infestations have soared 65 per cent over the past year.
Why is Luton affected?
The Bedfordshire town, as with London and Manchester, is a major international transport hub. Planes fly to French cities including Paris, the epicentre of an outbreak, Lyon and Nice.
Luton is also within the London commuter belt.
How is France hit?
Scenes of discarded mattresses around Paris indicate the scale of the issue. There are also reports of infestations in seats and soft furnishings in public buildings and mass transport systems. MP Mathilde Panot recently took a test tube filled with dead bedbugs into the Paris parliament to highlight the problem in ‘hospitals, schools, workplaces, retirement homes, prisons, trains and cinema theatres’.
What can we do?
Bedbugs are difficult to have removed. They are so small they can get inside mattresses plus folds in fabrics and clothing.
Treating an infestation in a house can cost £600 to £800 for an average three-bed house – though multiple treatments are often needed. The process is also disruptive as beds need to be stripped and wardrobes, drawers and shelves emptied with contents sealed. Occupants also must leave the property.
How do I treat bites?
These can be uncomfortable and itchy and may lead to swelling but usually not worse – with an extreme and life-threatening reaction, anaphylaxis, being a rare side-effect.
They generally subside after about a week but measures can be taken to reduce discomfort, such as putting a cool, damp cloth on the affected area and avoiding scratching.
Antihistamines or a mild steroid cream can also help.
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