A Rutgers entomologist known for coming up with novel ways to eradicate bedbugs is using his knowledge to help his neighbors.Changlu Wang, a professor in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, applied for a grant from Rutgers to develop a bed-bug management program for low-income New Brunswick residents living in public housing.Bedbugs – bloodsucking parasitic insects that consider beds cozy places to congregate and feed on human beings – are a particular scourge of urban, densely populated areas.
Wang learned of the city’s problem from John Clarke, Executive Director of the New Brunswick Housing and Redevelopment Authority, at a 2012 meeting of housing and redevelopment officials.The authority operates more than 1,400 public and assisted housing units in New Brunswick, some of which are infested with bed bugs.
Clarke asked Wang to visit one of the apartment sites located in the southern part of the city. “He came over, toured the property, and then said, ‘Look, I think I can help you guys,’” Clarke recalls.
Wang researched the authority’s records and sent questionnaires, asking residents to report any sightings. In suspected households, Wang and his team placed traps under the furniture and checked them every two weeks. Nine turned out to be infested – some with as few as two or three bedbugs, one apartment with 1,400.
The more people living in an apartment, the worse the infestation, Wang says. “That’s because more people are in and out, going to work or to school – places where they might pick up bed bugs and bring them home,” Wang says.Bedbugs, reddish-brown in color and wingless, range from 1 to 7 millimeters, as large as an apple seed. They’re more an annoyance than a health hazard, and may cause itching and loss of sleep – though, in rare cases, they may cause a secondary skin infection or allergic reaction.
Wang and his team treated the infested apartments with a combination of steam heat and an insecticide dust consisting of diatomaceous earth and a synthetic material, which is toxic to bed bugs but not to humans. “We sent the steam through the beds first,” he says. “That kills the bedbugs instantly and doesn’t leave any residue. Then, we put the insecticide dust in places where bedbugs hide – crevices, under the furniture, along bed frames.”
Wang’s efforts didn’t stop there, however. He talked to the residents and the housing authority about how to avoid the problem in the first place. Mattress covers – the kind that envelope the mattress, not the kind that just sits on top – are important, he says. Monitoring children for small bite marks, redness and itching is also a key to prevention. “It’s the kids who usually complain first,” Wang says.
Originally, Clarke and Wang hoped to reduce the infestation level by at least 80 percent. But after six months, Wang reported that 96 percent of the bedbugs were eradicated.
“The really good thing about him was that he didn’t just come in like an exterminator and lay down some stuff,” Clarke said. “He educated our staff and residents about what caused the problem and what we might do to eliminate the problem.”
The collaboration between Wang and the New Brunswick Housing and Redevelopment Authority was made possible by a grant from Rutgers’ Office of Community Affairs under the Community-University Research Partnership for New Brunswick program. Besides fighting bedbugs, Rutgers faculty and community groups have worked on such problems as congestion near the New Brunswick train station, increasing food security for the home-bound elderly, and the establishment of community gardens.
The grants are available to Rutgers faculty members and community partners focused on an important community problem. The faculty member writes the grant application and serves as principal investigator; the community partner is a nonprofit group or public entity committed to seeing the project through.
For more information, contact Ken Branson at firstname.lastname@example.org.