PERSPECTIVES Summer 2000: Beetles in the operating room
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Beetles in the operating room

Construction on the new wing to the hospital in southwest North Carolina was complete and usage had begun, when the hospital had to completely shut down the wing for three weeks, rescheduling surgeries and shifting emergencies to other areas. The reason? Insects had mysteriously appeared in the surgical suites. A local pest control operator, unsure of the species, called in Waldvogel from N.C. State University, along with experts from nearby Clemson University. They identified the pests as flat bark beetles and some plaster beetles as well. That was just the beginning of their job.

“We had to narrow down where they were coming from,” says Waldvogel. “Now, those insects you associate with moisture, but they were showing up in areas theoretically sealed off. We crawled over, under, inside. We set up black lights to see where the most accumulation was. We finally had to remove the structure’s entire ceiling.”

What Waldvogel saw when he looked up was that there were cylindrical ventilators inserted in the concrete roof, vents that had not been on the original blueprints he had looked at upon arrival.

And not only were there ventilators, he says,“but also gaps where they went through the roof. In every case the beetles were entering where the vent came through. So we realized they were up on the roof.”

The beetles were packed in the insulation under rubber membrane linings beneath the roof’s outer gravel layer. Waldvogel’s theory was that the membrane had trapped moisture under it, and fungus grew, and the beetles fed on that.

“When I first recommended the clients remove the entire roof, it was not well received,” he recalls. “But that’s what they eventually had to do.

“It’s a good example of the fact that when people build, they’re often not thinking about insects,” he says. “We need to train people to avoid certain types of construction practices. For example, a couple of bucks worth of caulking might have prevented this problem.”

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