Concerns over bedbugs are more pressing with France in the throes of hosting the Rugby World Cup
Concerns over bedbugs are more pressing with France in the throes of hosting the Rugby World Cup AFP News

The French government on Wednesday sought to calm growing public fears over a supposed bedbug invasion, saying there was no evidence of any resurgence of the biting irritants on public transport.

Aghast citizens have reported seeing the creatures in recent weeks on trains, the Paris metro as well as in cinemas and in schools.

The sightings have sent a shudder through the country, with France in the midst of hosting the Rugby World Cup and preparing to welcome millions from around the world for the Paris Olympics next year.

As well as dominating front pages, the reported surge in the vampiric pests has even become the butt of jokes on late night US television talk shows.

But officials insist there is no scientific evidence to suggest any explosion in bedbugs, and that images posted on social media do not necessarily mean growing numbers.

"There is no resurgence of bedbugs" in transport, Transport Minister Clement Beaune told reporters Wednesday after hosting an emergency meeting of major operators.

"There is no increase in cases, no psychosis, no need for anxiety," he added.

"It is taken seriously and each reported case receives a response and checks," Beaune said, insisting that none of the cases reported in recent weeks on the Paris metro or on intercity trains had been proven.

"I asked all operators to publish data on reported cases and proven cases," he added, "it is important to be transparent".

Around 10 cases were reported to the RATP, which runs the Paris metro, in recent weeks, Beaune said, adding that "all have been checked... there were zero proven cases".

Thirty-seven sightings had been reported to SNCF, the national train operator, with Beaune adding that "all have been checked, zero proven".

But in a sign of how seriously President Emmanuel Macron's government views the issue with the Olympics looming, an interministerial meeting will take place on Friday hosted by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, government spokesman Olivier Veran said.

Bedbugs "affect health, the economy, transport, tourism" and "therefore require a comprehensive approach," Veran told reporters.

Two schools -- one in Marseille and the other in Villefranche-sur-Saone outside Lyon in southeastern France -- have become infected with bedbugs and have been closed down for several days to be cleaned out, local authorities said.

Meanwhile, the head of Macron's Renaissance party in the French National Assembly, Sylvain Maillard, said Tuesday a cross-party bill would be put forward "at the beginning of December" to combat the "scourge" of bedbugs.

Bedbugs, which had largely disappeared from daily life by the 1950s, have appeared in greater numbers in recent decades, mostly due to high population densities, people taking more holidays and mass transit.

One in 10 French households are believed to have had a bedbug problem over the past few years, usually requiring a pest control operation costing several hundreds of euros that often needs to be repeated.

Bedbugs get their name from their habit of nesting in mattresses, although they can also hide in clothes and in luggage. They come out at night to feed on human blood.

Bedbug bites leave blisters or large rashes on the skin, and can cause intense itching or allergic reactions.

They also often cause psychological distress, sleeping issues, anxiety and depression.