TGV trains, metro trains, cinemas… All it took was a series of viral photos and videos on social networks for a wave of panic to sweep across France: bedbugs are proliferating in France! In fact, the summer of 2023 saw a 65% increase in interventions by pest control companies compared to the previous summer. If the Minister Delegate in charge of Transport, Clément Beaune, assures that there is “no resurgence”, the authorities take the matter very seriously. There is no question, less than ten months before the Paris Olympic Games, of letting the French bashing fueled in recent days by the international press ignite.
Haunted by hikers and pilgrims to Compostela, the pest marks the mental health of those who have crossed its path with a hot iron. Getting rid of it takes time: at least a month, sometimes much longer if the accommodation is not treated early enough. Certainly, bedbugs do not transmit any disease and their bites are never fatal. But they leave psychological aftereffects in their victims that are too often underestimated. “I developed OCD,” says Muriel Gauthier, a sculptor in Paris. “Even once they disappeared from my home, I kept looking at the ground to see if there were any. When I took the laundry from the machine, I made sure that it did not touch the floor for fear that it would be infested. Although it was tiled, so it was impossible…”
Paranoia and shame
Several weeks after their disappearance, Muriel still itched at night, imagining that the bedbugs were crawling up her body. “I became completely paranoid!” Even today, she hesitates to go to the cinema or sit on the metro, even though she knows her reluctance is partly “irrational”. The artist emphasizes the “shame” felt by many people who have gone through this ordeal. Because prejudices die hard and many still imagine that insects occur in unsanitary housing. However, this has nothing to do with hygiene, as all biologists specializing in pests attest.
It was by speaking that Éléonore, a translator in Clamart (Hauts-de-Seine) was able to overcome the ordeal. She recounted her setbacks in a long blog post. “This text constituted a small victory for me. Friends or anonymous people contacted me to tell me about a similar experience. They were no longer ashamed to talk about it. Despite myself, I acquired a status of reference on the subject in those around me and even with strangers. People call me to find out what to do in the event of an infestation.”
For several months, Éléonore also returned to the subject during sessions with her psychoanalyst. Swimming lessons did the rest. “The fatigue in the evening, when I came home, helped me fall asleep without asking myself any more questions.”