In the first study to use systematically collected data from apartment inspections to track bed bug infestation, investigators such as Christopher Sutherland of the University of Massachusetts Amherst confirm “what has long been suspected of bed bugs, but also of public health problems in general.” Infestation is strongly linked to socio-economic factors, including neighborhood income, eviction rates, and overcrowding.
Biostatistician Sutherland writes in People and Nature about his study in the Chicago area with biologist Daniel Schneider and urban planner Andrew Greenlee, both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and points out that the extent of the “dramatic resurgence” the bed bug is documented. As a common household pest, identifying socioeconomic factors that determine infestation risk is challenging as the data usually comes from self-reporting, which may be skewed.
“However, unlike previous research, our data comes from systematic inspections with known sampling effort and so may uniquely attribute the reductions observed to decreases in bed bug prevalence rather than reporting trends,” they add.
Sutherland and colleagues say that evidence of higher risk of bed bug infestation in poorer neighborhoods, areas where evictions are more common, and crowded areas “provides important empirical evidence of the disproportionate distribution of public health burdens across neighborhoods that already have several Dimensions of disadvantage – for example, poverty, contaminated water and health inequalities. “
Sutherland says he was surprised that the patterns were confirmed so strongly. “It is disheartening that we still have these extreme polarities in society,” he notes. “Differences in socioeconomic factors mean that these public health pressures fall on groups less able to cope with them than their wealthier neighbors. We highlight another public health issue that indicates precisely who bears the burdens. “
Schneider, an expert on dispersal ecology – how species move into new habitats and become extinct – adds, “The map of where people are most at risk of bed bugs looks like the same areas where more children have asthma and in the bloodstream and probably COVID-19 as well. How cynical we were about that stated how surprised we were with the results. “
The authors’ analysis uses administrative data on inspections by the Chicago Department of Buildings. From 2006 to 2018, a total of 56,384 inspections were carried out at addresses of 21,340 multi-storey apartment buildings with four or more floors and mixed residential / commercial buildings with three or more floors. Of these, 491 resulted in definitive bed bug evidence – a code violation – on the property. These bed bug positive inspections were found on 446 unique traits, indicating that some bed bugs were present on multiple inspections.
Using this and other data, the researchers aggregated the number of inspections and violations in each year at the census tract level and derived socio-economic measures for each tract. From this they identified four broad socio-economic categories – housing stability, affordability of housing, population demographics, and residential properties in the neighborhood – and nine related variables.
Their analyzes showed that “in addition to significant differences between years, the mean household income at the neighborhood level was the strongest predictor of bed bug prevalence. The eviction rate and crowd had a significant but relatively small impact. We found no evidence of bed bug prevalence by the mobility rate, affects the percentage of tenant households or the percentage of the population with a university degree. “
Schneider says, “This is just one facet of a bigger problem. This isn’t just a bed bug problem, and when you pile public health problems on top of each other, we believe they will be highly correlated.” The work appears in an open access journal, says Sutherland, “so anyone can access the data. We have tried to make the language clear enough for policy makers to show that this is further evidence of seriousness.” Differences in public health is. “
This study emerged from a two-year interdisciplinary workshop the authors organized for the National Science Foundation’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) to examine bed bug history, sociology, ecology, entomology, urban planning, and epidemiology. The research combined existing environmental and social data and, in Schneider’s words, fused “ideas that existed but were not previously synthesized together”.