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10th Oct 2023

Bedbugs: Where they’ve been spotted, what is being done and what you need to know

Steve Hopkins

They’ve been spotted in London, Manchester and Luton and Sadiq Khan has spoken out

Despite experts saying last week that bedbugs had settled in the UK some time ago, hysteria around the insect continues to spread.

On Tuesday, The Sun reported that the bugs had been spotted on a bus window in Manchester, suggesting they had now spread to another major UK city from the capital.

Over the weekend a London commuter made headlines after posting a video on TikTok claiming they were “thriving on the Vicky Line“. Almost two million people have now seen it.


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

♬ original sound – Lasso Gold

London mayor Sadiq Khan was asked about the issue by PoliticsJOE at Labour conference and attempted to reassure Londoners that TfL was taking steps to control any potential infestations.

“TfL have one of the best regimes to clean our assets on a nightly basis and we’re speaking to our friends in Paris to see whether there are any lessons to be learned,” he said.

“We don’t think those issues will arise in London, but no complacency from TfL.”

Also Tuesday, Luton Council confirmed it has received an “alarming number” of calls to tackle bedbugs, the BBC reported, and issued guidance on what people should do to prepare their homes for “treatment”. The council, warned however, there were not “limitless resources” to tackle the issue.

The broadcaster has also told the story of one Northampton pensioner who was forced to sleep in his car by the bugs who had infested his flat, owned by a retirement housing company.

Read also:

Beg bugs spotted in another UK city as worries of UK infestation grow

Experts issue warning bed bug infestation has already hit the UK

Bed bugs land in London as Underground commuter says ‘it’s over’

How bedbugs became such big news in the UK?

Bedbugs are big news in France, where the city’s deputy mayor, Emmanuel Gregoire has described them as a “scourge” and a “public health problem”. They’ve been spotted on trains, cinemas and subways and are endless front pages.

According to the French health and safety agency ANSES, one in 10 households in France has had a bedbug infestation between 2017 and 2022.

Off the back of that, a UK expert told Sky News last Friday that, rather than the UK being at risk of bedbugs arriving from Paris, they are already here.

“I think there’s probably a similar level of issue in London as there is in Paris at present.”

Microbiologist and founder of Bed Bugs Ltd David Cain told the broadcaster that bedbugs were already on “buses, trains, tubes, cinemas, doctor’s surgeries, public spaces, hospitals” and said the only difference between France and the UK, is that Parisians are trying to combat the issue, while Bits are “trying to keep the whole thing quiet”.

That culture of silence, Cain added, creates the perfect environment for bed bugs to spread. Cain estimated 5 per cent of households in London have had a bed bug infestation in the last two years.

The UK saw a 65 per cent increase in bed bug infestations from 2022 to 2023, according to data released by pest-control company Rentokil in September.

So, they’re nothing new?

Natalie Bungay, from the British Pest Control Association (BPCA), says bedbugs have been in the UK for many years and are “notoriously difficult to treat.”

They can be found all over the UK, but tend to a bigger problem in big cities.

Bungay told the BBC said the BPCA was not aware of any unusual increase in bedbug activity.

She said there was a “dip” during the pandemic due to a drop off in global travel, so now “could just be trends getting back to normal now that everybody is moving freely again.” Summer holidays can also lead to seasonal increases, but Bungay said it wasn’t “unusual.”

She also said the increased media attention can public awareness can also leads to “false alarms.”

Sky News noted that bed bugs were common before the Second World War, but the discovery of DDT as a cheap and effective insecticide helped control them. But the insects developed resistance to DDT, and then to the next wave of insecticides.

Bugs on the run

Amid concerns the pests could get to the UK via France, Eurostar has said it is preparing “preventative treatment” to mitigate any potential spread.

In a statement to Sky News, a spokesperson said finding bed bugs on trains was “extremely rare”.

“The textile surfaces on all of our trains are cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis and this involves hot-water injection and extraction cleaning, which has proven highly effective in eliminating bugs.”

Trains will be disinfected “on request or as soon as there is the slightest doubt” bed bugs could be present, the company added.

Meanwhile, The Mail reports that a major UK hotel chain has been quizzing guests as they check in on whether they have arrived from France.

The rooms of those who have been are being given a deep clean by pest control experts when they leave.

Air France, which runs up to six direct flights a day from Paris to London, said it will ground any aircraft if bedbugs are detected on board.

Dr Trish Horgan from Cork posted a message to rugby World Cup fans travelling to games, writing: “You did a super job supporting our boys in green. Now we ask you to do something to support the team at home.”

She urged anyone who is coming back home from France to ask a family member or a friend to put two large bin bags, one ziplock bag, and a towel in front of their house.

What do bedbugs look like? 

Bedbugs are small, with adults reaching about 5mm in length (less than a grain of rice) and are oval-shaped. They have six legs and can be dark yellow, red or brown. There are about 90 species worldwide. According to the British Pest Control Association the common bedbug (cimex lectularius) has adapted the best to human environments.

The term “bedbug” is slightly misleading, as they also can be found on clothing, furniture, bed frames, or behind loose wallpaper.

If you’ve got bedbugs, chances are they’ve left a mark

Bites are the best way to know if you have a problem with bedbugs. The mark is usually raised and itchy and bites are often in a line, or grouped. ON white skin, bites look red, on black or brown skin, they are purple and harder to identify. Spots of blood on bedding is also a tell-tale sign. Or, if the bugs have been squashed, brown spots on bedding or furniture.

BPCA’s Bungay urged people travelling to always check for the insects as “prevention is always better than cure”.

What you should do if you’ve been bit 

Bedbug bites are uncomfortable, but they’re nothing to worry about, and usually clear up on their own in about a week. Basic treatments include putting something cool and damp on the affected area and keeping it clean. It’s advised that people don’t scratch them. Antihistamines can help if bites are more itchy, while a mild steroid cream, like hydrocortisone, might be useful. A severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, is possible but rare.

People are advised to see their GP if the bites remain painful, swollen or itchy after pharmacy treatment, or if the pain or swelling around the bites spreads. 

How to get rid of bedbugs 

As mentioned above, prevention is best, but cleanliness is paramount.

Contaminated bedding and clothes should be hot-washed and tumble-dried on a hot setting for at least 30 minutes.

Clothing and bedding can be put in a plastic bag and put in the freezer for three or four days.

Houses should be cleaned regularly, as bedbugs can be found in both clean and dirty places. Cleaning can also help people locate them.

Cluttering around beds should be avoided and second-hand furniture should be checked before being taken indoors. 

Bungay urged people not to be ashamed and to call in an expert if required.

How to avoid bedbugs on public transport

Aaron Christensen, resident cleaning expert and VP of Growth at Homeaglow, told The Mirror that while it “might be unlikely” people will pick up bedbugs on public transport, “it’s not impossible that your seat could be hiding some of the critters in their seams.”

“To reduce the chances of catching bedbugs on the bus, train or tube, it’s advisable to avoid sitting down on fabric-lined seating or upholstered items and keep your bag with you or at your feet, rather than placing it on a seat next to you. If you’re still worried about bed bugs latching onto your bag, covering bags with a plastic bag when you’re commuting can prevent the bugs from climbing up or getting hold of the fabric.”

If items do become infested with bedbugs, Homeaglow advises people to isolate it – such as in a plastic box – and avoid bringing them into the bedroom or other living areas. Any clothes should be cleaned using hot settings. Bags should be vacuumed inside and out and the vacuum bag or empty canister should also be discarded.

For more information on bed bugs read the NHS help page here.