Battling Mattress Bugs and German Cockroaches Requires Cooperation and Steady Built-in Pest Administration Efforts


Bed bugs at the bottom of an end table beside a bed. Photo courtesy of Changlu Wang.

By Jody Green

Jody Green

German cockroaches and bed bugs are important indoor pests in low income, multi-family housing communities. The presence of German cockroaches in homes is associated with mechanical transmission of pathogens, allergy triggers, and asthma exacerbation. Bed bugs are blood-feeding ectoparasites (meaning they live on the outside of their host), and although not associated with disease transmission, their presence in homes has negative physical, psychological, social, and economic impacts.

Unfortunately, pest management cooperation is low in affordable housing. There is a large discrepancy between treatment and elimination. Families rely on property managers and pest management providers to identify pest problems and treat accordingly. Residents often lack awareness about cockroaches and bed bugs and do not know how to practice proper prevention. The contractor that bids the lowest gets the job, and despite repeated treatments to the same units, pest elimination is not successful.

Building-Wide IPM Benefits

German cockroaches caught on a sticky trap. Photo courtesy of Timothy Schwantiz.

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Integrated Pest Management, Changlu Wang, Ph.D., an entomologist at Rutgers University, confirmed the benefits of building-wide integrated pest management (IPM) after applying IPM techniques to a low-income, high-rise apartment building. Wang and his team of researchers compared the effectiveness of a researcher-led cockroach program and a contractor-modified IPM program for one year and compared the results with a control building that received monthly, conventional pest control.

In the IPM building, researchers installed monitoring traps in all units. Visual inspections were performed, and treatment actions were based on observations and trap counts. Residents in the IPM building were provided a variety of educational opportunities to learn about preventing cockroaches and bed bugs in their apartments. The infestation rate after one year in the IPM building resulted in a 63% reduction of bed bugs and 75% reduction in German cockroaches. In comparison, the control building had a 117% increase in bed bugs and only a 39% reduction of German cockroaches.

A sticky trap placed near a stove in the kitchen to monitor cockroaches. Photo courtesy of Changlu Wang.

In another study, Wang showed that in a high-rise building, neighboring units are more likely to be infested with German cockroaches through vertical and horizontal dispersal. His team concluded that building-wide IPM efforts would be more effective at managing cockroaches on a long-term basis, rather than performing treatments in response to complaints or regularly scheduled conventional treatments.

“Practicing continuous IPM is necessary to eliminate these pests and protect the residents in multi-family housing,” said Wang, who believes that property management/housing staff must step up and take part in the monitoring portion of the IPM program. “This approach is much easier said than done, as pest control contractors are limited with their time. Guidance for treatment should be based on monitoring data, so instead of treating 100 units regardless of the presence of pests in one day, concentrate IPM effort and time in the units with identified infestations in the same time frame.”

A bed after installing encasement and interceptors under the bed legs as part of an IPM program. Photo courtesy of Changlu Wang.

Following an IPM protocol takes effort and a level of conscientiousness in order to treat the units that will make the greatest impact in the time allotted.

“This study shows when IPM protocols are followed, it can have very good results,” said Wang. “The protocol includes educating the resident, monitoring pests using traps and visual inspection, and applying treatments in infested units until elimination is confirmed during follow-up visits.”

In addition, periodic building-wide inspections are important because there will always be new introductions.


Jody Green, Ph.D., is an urban entomology extension educator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a subject editor and communications editor for the Journal of Integrated Pest Management. Twitter: @JodyBugsMeUNL. Email: