Bed bugs in French SNCF trains

by nobugsonme on August 3, 2007 · 9 comments

in bed bug treatment, bed bugs, bed bugs and travel, bed bugs on public transportation

Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that bed bugs have been found on French SNCF overnight trains from Nice to Metz. New bookings have been suspended for a week while the three affected coaches have been taken out of service and “disinfected”.

“In summer the risks of infestation are much greater because of the heat. As a result we’ve stepped up our cleaning routine for the sleeping compartments,” an official said.

Well, now that bed bugs are an epidemic everywhere, we should expect bed bug infestations year round, anywhere. And not just on overnight services, either. Cleaning routines need to be altered and stepped up in all areas where bed bugs can take root, including normal seats on trains and other transportation modes.

Pest control experts should be helping organizations of all kinds plan protocols to prevent bed bugs, and protocols for dealing with bed bugs should an infestation occur. Train, bus, and airline personnel should be trained to clean preventively, and taught to recognize the more subtle signs of bed bugs.

By “subtle signs of bed bugs,” I mean more subtle than, for example, people running, screaming, from a train overnight compartment, screaming “Mon Dieu!”

Update (8/4):

Apparently Reuters offered another take on the same story, as shown in the Scotsman, here.
I think you’ll find it interesting:

Bed bugs were a rare occurrence, [an unnamed SNCF official] added.

“It’s the kind of little animal that unfortunately you’ll only notice when they bite. There’s no other way to detect them. They are so small.”

Contrasting with the promises to step up cleaning procedures (as per the AFP story), this statement about the impossibility of detection is only somewhat accurate. It is difficult to find actual bed bugs, but not because they are small. Yes, 1st instar nyphs are only 1/32″ or 1 mm long, but adults are 1/6″ or 6 mm long. If they sat around in plain view, you’d have no trouble seeing them. They’re extremely stealthy and can hide in the thinnest cracks–instead of letting SNCF off the hook for not finding bed bugs, this speaks to the need for more careful searching and more thorough cleaning to detect and prevent them.

And it is not impossible to see their signs; housekeeping staff, porters, repair workers, and ticket collectors, and others who work in hotels, hostels, sleeper cars, other train cars, planes, and buses can and should be trained to look for subtler signs of bed bugs: fecal stains, fecal specks, and bloodstains (tiny, thin, or larger) on the seat, bed, or bedsheets, and bed bug cast shells, can all be watched for, as can bed bugs. Staff not trained in this way will often assume they’re seeing something innocuous (carpet beetles, roaches, whatever), when they do actually encounter a bed bug.

What’s more, bed bugs are no longer a “rare occurrence,” neither where I live in NYC, nor in France. They’re growing to epidemic proportions worldwide. Click on the Cluster Map on the inner right sidebar (at the top) if you want to see where this site’s visitors have come from since June 2nd, 2007. This SNCF official needs to be brought up to speed.

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1 August 3, 2007 at 2:33 pm

One PCO I talked to said his company does a lot of bed bug work for the airlines. They treat planes while they are parked overnight at the airport. I didn’t ask him whether he’s treating the cargo hold, the cabin or both – some things I guess I’m just better off not knowing.

Bed bugs in the overhead bins – yuck!

2 parakeets August 3, 2007 at 4:05 pm

There already are roaches, ants, fleas, spiders, carpet beetles, flies, mosquitoes and all sorts of crawlies on all forms of transportation. I’ve seen them. The fact that there are now known infestations of bedbugs is no surprise. If they are on cruise ships, they are on overnight trains.

But when you say “Cleaning routines need to be altered and stepped up in all areas where bed bugs can take root, including normal seats on trains and other transportation modes” — nope, cleaning won’t do it. Bedbugs will show up and move in whether a place is meticulous or sloppy, clean or dirty. Cleaning could help with detection in transportation vehicles, though, particularly when there is careful, observant housekeeping done by staff trained to recognize bedbugs.

3 nobugsonme August 3, 2007 at 7:27 pm

Parakeets,
You’re right–bed bugs will absolutely infest a space, clean or dirty, and I don’t think I implied otherwise. But cleaning regularly can help keep bed bugs from taking root in a place with lots of people passing through.

I said “Train, bus, and airline personnel should be trained to clean preventively, and taught to recognize the more subtle signs of bed bugs,” not because bed bugs won’t live in clean places, but because regular industrial-strength vacuuming and professional dry steaming can pick up the odd wandering bed bug or egg and prevent bed bugs from taking hold.

Good, regular cleaning, and trained cleaners who can recognize signs of bed bugs can help nip infestations in the bud at the earliest juncture.

Incidentally, I just read that Delta was going back to cleaning the insides of its planes every 30 days. Apparently, for a while, they were doing so every 18 months. Anyone who’s ridden on a stinky Greyhound bus has wondered, with me, how often they’re cleaned.

Anonymous,
I am happy that the airlines are getting treatment, and I can only hope they’re doing it as a regular precaution and not because they have an infestation that can barely be controlled. I know PCOs say you can’t treat bed bugs preventatively, but I think in a public transport vehicle, you kind of have to assume bed bugs are passing through regularly, and have some kind of residual or mechanical killer working all the time.

4 nobugsonme August 4, 2007 at 12:52 am

There’s also this, from David Cain in the forums:
http://www.rivieratimes.com/

What is it with the “heat caused them to multiply” idea? Well, sure. But it can and will happen in winter too. I doubt train cars get cold enough long enough to kill bed bugs in winter.

Summer was frequently hot during the period from the seventies until now, but bed bugs did not come back.

Bed bugs are in your trains, Monsieur, because there’s an epidemic! And who rides in the sleeping cars from the Riviera? Touristes, rich folks, film buffs, Americains. Just the kind of people that move bed bugs from place to place. N’est-ce pas?

5 Bugalina August 4, 2007 at 7:09 am

Back in the “days”….before bed bugs were eradicated it is said that Hotels, Motels, Sleeping Cars, etc., were “notorius” for having bed bugs. I remember reading that they were easily transferred from car to car on folded linens and blankets. Ok, so they are taking the sleeper cars out of commission, to be treated. And, what’s going to happen! In a not so short period of time, the bed bugs will arrive on a new customers luggage, and the infestation will begin all over again. Its a nitemare…..I would like to know when the last time in their history that the SNCF had to decomission train cars due to a “communicable bug”. So if bed bugs are just a “nuisance” then why the need to take the cars out of service. Bed bugs are serious. A seriously effective treatment needs to be reinvented to eradicate them once again. I cannot imagine taking a sleeper car on Amtrak…..or a sleeper seat….Cover ups…lies…travelers beware…..

6 nobugsonme August 4, 2007 at 12:51 pm

Update (8/4):

Apparently Reuters offered another take on the same story, as shown in the Scotsman, here.
I think you’ll find it interesting:

Bed bugs were a rare occurrence, [an unnamed SNCF official] added.

“It’s the kind of little animal that unfortunately you’ll only notice when they bite. There’s no other way to detect them. They are so small.”

Contrasting with the promises to step up cleaning procedures (as per the AFP story), this statement about the impossibility of detection is only somewhat accurate. It is difficult to find actual bed bugs, but not because they are small. Yes, 1st instar nyphs are only 1/32″ or 1 mm long, but adults are 1/6″ or 6 mm long. If they sat around in plain view, you’d have no trouble seeing them. They’re extremely stealthy and can hide in the thinnest cracks–instead of letting SNCF off the hook for not finding bed bugs, this speaks to the need for more careful searching and more thorough cleaning to detect and prevent them.

Because finding actual bed bugs is difficult, housekeeping staff, porters, repair workers, and ticket collectors, and others who work in hotels, hostels, sleeper cars, other train cars, planes, and buses can and should be trained to look for subtler signs of bed bugs: fecal stains, fecal specks, and bloodstains (tiny, thin, or larger) on the seat, bed, or bedsheets, and bed bug cast shells, can all be watched for, as can bed bugs. Staff not trained in this way will often assume they’re seeing something innocuous (carpet beetles, roaches, whatever), when they do actually see a bed bug.

What’s more, bed bugs are no longer a “rare occurrence,” neither where I live in NYC, nor in France. They’re growing to epidemic proportions worldwide. Click on the Cluster Map on the inner right sidebar (at the top) if you want to see where this site’s visitors have come from since June 2nd, 2007. This SNCF official needs to be brought up to speed.

7 parakeets August 6, 2007 at 12:12 pm

Sorry, my frustration-remark about “cleaning” the trains was not directed at you at all, Nobugs (I had absolutely no issue with your remarks which were cogent, accurate and thorough –as ALWAYS!). My cranky post was just a knee-jerk reaction to “those people” (not you) who think you can “clean” bedbugs away, and I was afraid that was how the SNCF was going to do it, and all they were going to do. You are absolutely right and it was well stated in your original post. The Boston Bedbug convention and the International Bedbug convention last September in Herndon both emphasized the same thing–the need for careful, trained inspection and observation for signs of bedbugs, often best done by the cleaning staff.

8 nobugsonme August 6, 2007 at 2:26 pm

I hear you Keets, and you are right. We need to hear these entities are getting trained in the recognition and prevention of bed bugs by the likes of Michael Potter, our Winston O’Buggy and Lou Sorkin. Let’s hope they don’t blow this off as “something that happens in warmer weather.”

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