Bed-bug boom in Lisbon: the (itchy) flip-side to ‘local lodging’

They’re “plaguing” holiday apartments in Lisbon, and tourists are apparently to blame.

Yes, we’re talking about bed bugs – those barely visible creatures that thrive in less than clean mattresses, feeding off the blood of their occupants.

A no-holds-barred article published in Jornal i today announces “Tourists bring bed bug plague to Lisbon”, suggesting the outbreak has overtaken habitual infestations of cockroaches and mice.

“Exterminator” companies are calling the barely visible bugs “the plague of the year” says reporter Marta Cerqueira, stressing that “Lisboetas” (Lisbon residents) and the companies themselves can see “only one reason: the increase in ‘alojamento local’ (local lodging) which has transformed the capital in the last few years, seeing more and more people investing in properties simply to rent out.

According to Cerqueira, “tourists themselves are bringing the bugs with them in their suitcases”.

“These bugs are capable of crossing an ocean, hidden in a tourist’s luggage”, she writes after interviewing a frustrated homeowner in an uptown condominium.

“I have never seen anything like it”, said the woman named as Lourdes, explaining that her block’s infestation followed the opening of four of the 10 apartments to ‘local lodging’.

“It was the coming and going of tourists that brought the outbreak here”, she told Cerqueira.

Lourdes’ complaints to the authorities fell on stony ground (or rolled off a heaving mattress).

Suffice it to say, Cerqueira had to approach the “direção-geral de Saúde” herself, to be assured that while bed bugs are “irksome and sickening, they do not represent a danger to public health”.

“At least not for the time being”, said health director Graça Freitas. “If we hear of more cases, health service personnel will have to perform risk evaluation to see if measures need to be taken”.

Inquiries to Lisbon’s exterminator companies would suggest that they might.

“There is not a day in which BarataKill doesn’t receive a phone call from a resident in the areas of Martim Moniz, Mouraria, Almirante Reis or the Bairro Alto”, writes Cerqueira, after speaking to BarataKill employee Vânia Augusto who reiterated: “You have to remember that up until last year it was extremely rare to receive calls about bed bugs…”

Extermination involves “at least 40 minutes spraying the most affected areas”, a service that “never works out at less than 100 euros”.

Simacontrol, another company in the field, says it has been equally visited by requests to eradicate bed bugs but suggests the hot dry weather might be to blame, not the tourists themselves.

Cerqueira is clearly unconvinced, sticking with the image of bed bugs stowing away in travellers’ luggage.

“As it is proven that bed bugs do not have frontiers, we tried to discover if these insects had reached the north” of Portugal, her article continues.

“Hélder Vilela, in charge of Desipest, guarantees that this year he has received more calls about flea and bed bug plagues, but that bed bugs continue to be almost exclusive to hotels and large companies”.

Vilela added however: “Now that you mention it, the three or four times I have been called by private customers, they have all mentioned that they have been on holiday to Lisbon…”

“Hélder Vilela added that the places where these customers had stayed included local lodging businesses as well as four-star hotels”… says Cerqueira, concluding that this all proves the bed bug is “a democratic bug”.

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