Alarm is spreading on dance floors in France following needle attacks on dozens of young people in nightclubs, with police in the dark as to the assailants' identity or motives.
The victims, who are mostly women, report the sudden onset of identical symptoms -- nausea, dizziness and sharp pain -- while out partying, and only later detect a needle prick on their skin, a red dot surrounded by a blue circular bruise.
Returning home from a night of dancing in April in Nantes, western France, 21-year-old Eloise Cornut had a sudden onset of "cold sweat, nausea, shivering and dizziness".
The beauty parlour apprentice felt better the next day, but a colleague noticed a needle prick in the back of her arm.
"It was a red dot with half an inch of blue bruising around," she told AFP.
Cornut, who doesn't drink or take drugs and only goes out at weekends, said she quickly realised that needle attack must have happened during her Saturday dance outing.
Her colleagues urged her to file a police report and get a blood test.
- 'Totally stresses me out' -
"I now have to wait five weeks before I can get an HIV test," she said. "That totally stresses me out."
Since early April, police have been dealing with around 60 such cases reported in nightclubs, a police source said, with the true number likely much higher.
The gendarmerie, France's paramilitary police force mostly active outside of large cities, said it was not able to give any countrywide figures yet, as the data had not been sufficiently evaluated.
Some 45 cases have been reported in Nantes since mid-February, according to prosecutors.
Complaints were also filed in the western city of Rennes and in areas of France's south, the southwest, the French Alps and the Atlantic coast.
Blood tests have not revealed the presence of GHB, known as "liquid ecstasy" or "date rape drug", a substance that potential sex assailants sometimes mix into the drink of their victims, prosecutor Renaud Gaudeul said.
Lab tests had also failed to establish the presence of any other toxic substance, and nobody had been arrested, he told AFP.
Experts caution, however, that GHB disappears from the bloodstream without trace within hours after being administered.
One police source said the needle attacks were sometimes followed by a sexual assault, and sometimes not.
- 'Big bruise, red dot' -
In Roanne, a picturesque town in the Loire valley, an 18-year-old woman who asked not to be named was celebrating a friend's birthday in a disco.
When she accompanied a friend to the toilet, a man groped her bottom.
"When I got home I checked in the mirror and there was a big bruise with a red dot on my right buttock," she told AFP.
Her friends later told her that they had noticed a man staring at her in the disco "as if he was waiting for something to happen to me".
Doctors immediately gave her preventative treatment for HIV and hepatitis.
Roanne police are investigating the incident for "pre-meditated violence and the pre-meditated administration of a harmful substance".
A similar probe was launched following a complaint by a young man in his 20s, who reported a needle stab in his shoulder in the same disco on the same night.
The phenomenon has been spreading to music festivals, such as the Printemps de Bourges in central France, one of the country's biggest music gatherings.
After nine complaints from festival goers, police there also launched an investigation into "administration of harmful substances", without having been able so far to find any culprits or determine exactly what devices were being used.
"We don't know whether we're looking for syringes or whether they're using simple pins," said Agnes Bonjean, chief of staff to the prefect of the Cher region where Bourges is located.
"It really hurt," said Noemie, 23, who was stabbed "in the thigh, right up to the sciatic nerve" during a night out in Beziers, southwestern France, and immediately rushed to hospital by friends after nearly losing consciousness.
- 'Sick and perverse' -
The public prosecutor in Beziers, Raphael Balland, told AFP that 15 complaints had been filed there, of which 14 followed attacks that happened over a single night, from April 17 to 18.
Contacted by AFP, prosecutors in Paris said that six investigations had been launched since last week in the capital.
Meanwhile nightclub owners are beginning to feel the impact of the attacks on their earnings.
Saying the "sick and perverse" attacks were sparking "hysteria" among young people, Thierry Fontaine, at the UMIH hospitality association, said they were also creating a fresh problem for nightclub owners who were still reeling from the impact of Covid restrictions.
One nightclub owner in southwestern France reported a revenue drop of 50 percent last weekend as people stayed away following two needle attack cases, Fontaine said.