Close-up of a bedbug

London saw minimal spike in bedbugs during Paris infestation despite hysteria

London saw a minimal spike in cases of bedbugs following the Paris infestation last year, despite significant concerns at the time, new data suggests.

Data obtained by South West Londoner through a series of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to London councils shows a less than 3% increase in bedbug-related council visits between August 2023, before the reported Paris infestation, and October 2023, when it was supposedly at its height.

An FOI to Transport for London (TFL) also revealed that while it received 35 complaints about bedbug sightings across its services in October 2023, more than 80% of total the complaints that year, no cases were confirmed as bedbugs.

This is despite widespread concern in late September and October that the Paris infestation had spread to London, and was rampant in residences across the capital and on the underground.

The data is backed up by testimony from a pest control company that operates in the capital.

Paul Blackhurst, Technical Academy Head at Rentokil Pest Control, said: “The Paris effect did cause a small increase but it wasn’t the huge jump that everyone thought it was. What it did drive was complaints and worry.

“Certainly what I was seeing in the press and on social media, personally I wasn’t convinced that they were bedbugs that people were filming.

“There’s a number of other insects that can be mistaken for bedbugs like woodlice and booklice, which are pests in themselves but they’re not bedbugs.

“In terms of what was actually bedbugs, we saw a single-figure increase.”

Blackhurst added that the anxiety about bedbugs during that time was to be expected, given the negative impact they can have on mental health.

He added: “Although they’re not known to spread diseases through their bites, the bites can get infected and from a mental health point of view, being bitten at night-time all over your body is not a very nice experience, so I can understand people’s worry about them.”

Scottish student Eilidh Cameron, 21, who found herself covered in bedbug bites in a French Airbnb in July 2023, reiterated the stress of going through such an ordeal. 

She said: “We were so stressed out, thinking, this is over all of our clothes, all of our belongings, and we had nowhere else to go. 

“I was moving into a new flat when I came back to Glasgow and it was just so stressful thinking, I don’t want to infest a new property with bedbugs.

“I was a student so I didn’t have the means to steam all my clothes or throw clothes away — I was very overwhelmed.

“Any bites can show up days after you’ve been bitten so I kept getting new ones and being so so anxious that I’d brought them back.”

Despite the negligible spike in bedbug-related council visits around the Paris infestation, the council data did reveal an overall surge in late summer-early autumn 2023 compared to the rest of that year.

However, this is in-line with usual peak season for bedbugs, due to warm weather and increased travel.

The same data also showed a high degree of variation in the number of bedbug-related visits council-to-council over the last three years.

At the top end, Southwark Council made a total of 6,130 visits between 2021-2023, with Islington, Lewisham, Newham and Tower Hamlets also making considerable numbers of visits.

At the bottom end, Sutton, Kingston and Merton made no visits during this three-year period, and Croydon made just 14.

Blackhurst stressed this was likely down to the different ways in which councils respond to bedbug complaints, rather than the number of bedbugs itself, explaining that while some councils may have a comprehensive five-step treatment plan, generating more visits, others may have no bedbug service at all.

Councillor James McAsh of Southwark Council, also Cabinet Member for the Climate Emergency, Clean Air and Streets, echoed: “Southwark is the largest social landlord in London and the fourth largest in the UK. 

“We also offer a free pest control service to our tenants, unlike many local authorities across the country.

“As a result, we have a bigger pest control team and naturally carry out more visits.”

London councils omitted from this bedbugs dataset are Havering, Barking and Dagenham, Brent, Bromley, Hammersmith and Fulham, Harrow, Waltham Forest, Westminster and Bexley.

Related Articles