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Bedbugs take Paris


The French Republic is facing a crisis, and the cabinet is huddling tomorrow to come up with a national plan. The crisis is bedbugs - tiny blood-sucking insects that have been reported in the country's hotels, trains and movie theaters. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Just nine months ahead of the Paris Olympics, the bedbug has become a politically charged issue. Sightings are everywhere, it seems, even in the French parliament.


MATHILDE PANOT: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: Far-left firebrand Mathilde Panot brandished a vial of the tiny insects - punaise de lit, in French - as she verbally attacked the prime minister in a session this week.


PANOT: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Bedbugs are a national health problem, and you've done nothing since I first alerted the government six years ago," she said. Panot demanded a free and effective public eradication service for the millions who she says are suffering.


PANOT: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "Madame Prime Minister," asked Panot, "must your own residence be infected for you to act?" Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne responded with force.


ELISABETH BORNE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "There are subjects that should not be politicized," she said. "Have a little decency." Borne pointed out that many of the world's big cities had been infected by bedbugs in recent decades due to mass tourism and resistance to pesticides. But at least one right-wing lawmaker and a controversial TV host drew condemnation for suggesting the surge in bedbugs might be linked to the surge in migration. Many bedbug sightings have proved unfounded, but a few social media videos of them crawling on the seats of high-speed trains prompted French Transport Minister, Clement Beaune, to speak to the press.


CLEMENT BEAUNE: (Through interpreter) We have had a few cases, but there is a strict protocol in place. And the trains are regularly treated. There is currently no acceleration in bedbugs.

BEARDSLEY: According to the French National Agency for Health and Food Safety, more than 1 household in 10 has been infested with bedbugs in the last five years.

Bonjour, Madame.


BEARDSLEY: I went to the Montparnasse train station in Paris to check things out for myself. I met three colleagues taking the Metro home from work.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "When we get on the train now, we think about it," they said. "We never did before."

FLORE BRUYAT: Yeah, of course. I look on my seat and look everywhere. If I see something...

BEARDSLEY: Flore Bruyat pulls a big scarf out of her bag. She says she's been wrapping it around her hair in the Metro. Annabelle Joubert says it's a good thing Paris is hosting the Olympics next summer.

ANNABELLE JOUBERT: (Through interpreter) They're going to take big measures to get rid of these bugs because of all the people who will be coming for the Olympics. France's image is on the line.


BEARDSLEY: Outside the station, Joseph Gasmi stands in front of the three-star hotel he's run for 40 years in this neighborhood of theaters and cinemas.

JOSEPH GASMI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "I have never had bedbugs in my hotel," he tells me. And he thinks all the hype about bedbugs in theaters is bunk.

GASMI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "They want to sell their disinfection products," he laughs. Back in the train station, sales rep Nathalie Bouyrie says she believes the media are blowing the bedbug problem out of proportion. Nevertheless, she's itching to board her high-speed train and get out of the city.

NATHALIE BOUYRIE: (Through interpreter) I'm not worried about them in the train, even though they do have plush cushions. But I don't want to sit down in the Paris Metro now.


BEARDSLEY: As I take my seat in the Metro to go home, I notice several people standing beside empty seats and begin to wonder if I should be standing too. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.