Paris Fashion Week is over. Celebrities, fashion editors, and mid-tier influencers are packing up to go home and, according to a flurry of anecdotal accounts, bringing bedbugs with them. Clément Beaune, the French transportation minister, has said that the agency is not in fact finding the bugs over every surface of the Paris Metro and national rail but is nonetheless “taking this issue seriously,” per an interview with the New York Times, also noting that buses, trains, and subways are regularly cleaned.
Regardless — it is gross to consider a swarm of blood-sucking insects making their way back to New York City in someone’s Balenciaga garment bag, so we asked Larry Bernhardt, exterminator at Top Notch Pest Control in Bensonhurst, every question we could think of about bedbugs.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
People in Paris right now have been claiming to see bedbugs everywhere — trains, ferries, the airport. Should we be concerned now that people are coming home from this apparently bug-infested Fashion Week?
Yes. Bedbugs travel very easily because they are hitchhikers. So when people are saying that they’re seeing them on trains and stuff like that, the bedbugs will latch on and then hitchhike with them home or to a hotel. Especially a place like Paris, where there are a lot of people traveling. They will spread quickly.
How likely are you to get bedbugs traveling on a plane?
It’s on a case-by-case basis, but it all comes down to chance. Did the person prior to you sitting in that seat maybe have a problem, or does the airline have a problem that you’re just unaware of at the moment? You might go on a plane that has nothing on it, and you’re fine. There’s really no way to tell unless they’re on some type of inspection program.
What do airlines and airports usually do for bed-bug mitigation? Is it just kind of a free-for-all?
I’m sure they are on some type of regular program. I know we’ve done a few places — not airports, but there are large commercial places that would have a canine inspection come in on a regular basis. So I would hope that that’s what they’re doing.
So the dogs really work.
It all depends on the dog. A lot of people say they’ll have a canine inspector, but if the dog’s not certified, I really wouldn’t trust it. Certified dogs have something like a 97 percent success rate. Every once in a while there will be a false positive, but they are super-accurate. It’s the most accurate way to detect bedbugs.
What’s the certification? Do the dogs have to go take a test?
Yeah. It’s training and how many bedbugs they find and stuff like that.
It’s really cute to think of a dog having a little license.
Yeah, like he’s just showing it to you when he walks up.
And hotels — do they usually have bug systems in place?
It really depends on the owner of the hotel, but again, it’s the same thing. It really comes down to canine inspection. That way you’re getting the alerts quicker to take care of the problem before it becomes a bigger infestation. It comes down to detection and them jumping on it the minute they see it.
With all the pictures being posted from Paris it kind of seems like — at least anecdotally — it’s already a bigger infestation.
Absolutely, that’s a sign that it’s worse than normal. Usually they also only want to come out at night. So if they’re seeing them during the day, that’s extremely alarming that their numbers are really growing and they’re kind of feeling free to just walk around during the day. They would have to come up with a super-aggressive game plan for the trains, the ferries — maybe shutting down certain trains or having a limited schedule so they could make sure that all the transportation is treated properly.
I’ve seen those heated suitcases and bags that claim to kill bedbugs inside. Would those help travelers?
Yeah. It really comes down to having to heat it for a certain amount of time. So I’m sure any heat chamber would work as long as it’s meeting the specifications of having it at a certain heat for the recommended time. [The National Pest Management Association recommends 118 degrees for 90 minutes.]
Can you get bedbugs on the subways here, even if they’re not cloth seats?
Absolutely. It’s something you have to worry about if you are traveling on the trains and stuff. I would definitely recommend checking your clothes when you get home.
So if you were traveling from Paris right now, what would you do?
The minute I’m getting home, I’m throwing everything from my suitcase into a black contractor bag, tying it tight, and then washing and drying it before I put anything back into my drawers or anything like that. And then, if I wanted to be super-proactive, I would have a canine inspector come by probably about three to four days after coming back home. As long as the bedbug has been there for four to eight hours, something like that, the dogs will pick up the scent.
So all these fashion week people should be cautious.
Yeah. A lot of people think that bedbugs are dirty. They’re not a dirty bug. You could be the cleanest person in the world and still get them. We’ve done beautiful penthouses. You could have the cleanest apartment in the world that you could eat food off the floor from, and you could still have bedbugs.
They don’t care who you are. Anna Wintour could get bedbugs.