Category Archives: Pests In the News

Scientists use crime-solving techniques to control disease-spreading pests

Homeowners may already compare pests to criminals, and now researchers are giving them even more of a reason to do so. PhD researcher Mark Stevenson at Queen London University is using geographic profiling (GP) often used to track high profile killers to study animal and insects, which could change how people think about and deal with disease-causing pests.

The science
"What do serial killers have in common with great white sharks, invasive species and malaria-transmitting mosquitoes?" Stevenson writes in his abstract. "They are all traveling from a central location in some kind of predictable pattern. If we can work out the pattern, it is possible to estimate where they live based on where we know they have been."

GP can help law enforcement and detection agencies identify likely areas where a serial offender resides or uses as a home base, such as work or a friend's place, according to the National Institute of Justice.

In the study of insects and animals, GP is used to study animal foraging. Stevenson explains while science has already enabled medical and biology professionals to track animal patterns, knowledge of where disease-spreading pests originate from is still lacking, according to Phys.org. For example, scientists still don't know where malaria-transmitting mosquitoes come from.

GP in epidemiology has already proven successful, the news sources states. A cholera outbreak in 1854 has been reexamined and researchers have studied and malaria outbreaks in Cairo using the technology. Scientists were able to rank the locations where diseases were spread by severity of reach.

Being aware of local dangers
The technology's use to control dangerous bugs and rodents is still in its developing stages. While malaria and similar diseases may not be of urgent concern to homeowners in the U.S., it's a good idea to be aware common household pests may carry potentially deadly diseases.

Rodents are common household pests known for their potential to transmit dangerous illnesses to residents and their pets. Diseases can be spread through rodent saliva, eye and nose secretion and droppings. Homeowners should take action to prevent an infestation by sealing up any cracks and crevices in their homes and eliminating moisture in attics and basements.

If residents suspect unwanted critters on their property, they should contact a pest management professional immediately to ensure there is limited damage to their property and their safety is not put at risk.

Ohio health rep says homeowners should contact professionals to eliminate bed bugs

People mixing chemicals and using pesticides bought off store shelves to eliminate bed bugs are putting their households in danger, Andy Gedeon, director of Environmental Health at the Portsmouth Health Department told Portsmouth Daily Times.

"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) just issued an alert that there has been a lot of cases of pesticide poisoning or pesticide exposure, due to self-treatment of bed bugs," Gedeon said.

He told the newspaper people are purchasing bug-killing formula from hardware stores and spraying the interior of their homes with them instead of calling a professional, thereby endangering themselves, family members and pets. The Ohio Department of Health said no over-the-counter treatments effectively eliminate bed bugs.

"Some people are even taking pesticides that are only for outdoor use and using those inside," Gedeon said. "People who have no training and no certification are trying to treat themselves in an attempt to save money."

Pesticide misuse is very dangerous and can be life threatening in some cases. Exposure symptoms include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, loss of consciousness and tremors. Gideon warned children are especially susceptible to pesticide harm because of their tendency to touch surfaces and put their hands in their mouths. Chemicals can settle on toys, increasing the risk of sickness.

Gideon strongly advised Portsmouth residents hire a pest management professional if they detect signs of bed bugs.

"Make sure that they are licensed," he advised. "If you have any questions on that, they should be able to provide the documentation."

Taking precautions to protect the home
According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), one in five Americans have either experienced a bed bug infestation or know someone who has. Homeowners can take precautionary measures to avoid becoming part of this 20 percent.

Bed bugs can be picked up anywhere and can survive in unlikely places, like buses, health clubs and movie theaters, for extensive periods of time. The NPMA reports even the Empire State Building experienced an infestation.

Because the critters are active in the dark, they can be difficult to detect at first. Bed bugs shed their skin, and residents can look for pepper-like spots on surfaces, mattresses and in crevices. The NPMA suggests changing linens often and avoiding clutter in the home to eliminate any potential hiding places for the pests.

When traveling, it's a good idea to inspect hotel rooms before settling in and keep luggage away from beds and furniture. Upon returning home, residents should check suitcases for bed bug signs. If they find evidence of the critters, homeowners should call an exterminator promptly.

Rat bite fever hits Washington

Residents in Washington last week reported cases of rat bite fever, an illness transmitted by rodents. A press release Friday announced the reports are from the Chelan-Douglas Health District and Grand County.

Rat bite fever is caused by bacteria found naturally in rodents' mouths. The disease can affect humans and pets through bites and contact with urine or secretion from the mouth, eyes or nose of an infected animal.

The disease can be carried by rodents, weasels and feral cats and dogs, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

While there are no known instances of person-to-person transmission, the disease is most commonly seen in children. Symptoms of rat bite fever include chills, fever, joint pain or swelling and rash.

Local newspaper The Wenatchee World warned that disease-carrying rodents could contaminate food, water and unpasteurized milk.

To avoid coming into contact with animals that may carry the bacteria, it's a good idea to seal up any holes or cracks in walls, basements and attics and to eliminate moisture indoors.

Homeowners should also place trash in thick bags  and dump garbage in secure containers. Pet food should never be left outside and all food items indoors should be tightly sealed. If residents suspect a rodent problem, they should contact a pest control professional promptly to avoid property damage and prevent the spread of disease.

Have a holly jolly pest-free holiday

As households begin preparations for the holidays, there are several precautionary measures residents should consider to avoid adding pest control to their to-do lists. Before decking the halls, it's a good idea to keep a lookout for signs of unwelcome intruders. This week, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) released its tips for avoiding pest infestations this holiday season.

Inspect the Christmas tree
For many, the holidays aren't complete without a tree. If residents decide to bring a fresh evergreen into their homes, they should check the tree outside before doing so. Homeowners should look for spiders, insect nests and eggs before purchasing trees, wreaths and garlands, the NPMA advises. It's a good idea to shake out any greenery before bringing it indoors.

Keep firewood 20 feet away from homes
Because the fireplace is a popular gathering place during wintertime, homeowners should be very careful about spiders, ants and other insects that make their homes in woodpiles. The NPMA recommends keeping firewood on an elevated platform outside of the home. Residents may also consider wearing work gloves when handling wood.

Be cautious with decorations
It's a good idea to unpack ornaments, signs and other festive home accessories outside, in case mice or other pests have infested them over the year. In addition, after the holidays decorations should be repacked in durable, sealed containers and stored in a dry area.

Keep food pest-free
The NPMA encourages homeowners to check expiration dates on ingredients and look for holes in sealed packages. Residents can place a bay leaf in storage containers and packages of dry goods, as the smell deters many pantry pests.

Bring in a professional
If homeowners suspect or notice signs of an infestation, such as rodent droppings, eggs and insects, they should contact an exterminator promptly. A pest management professional can solve creepy crawler problems quickly and efficiently, so residents can focus on their holiday festivities.

Tree termites terrorize Florida residents

State officials are taking action against nasutitermes corniger, a Caribbean species of termites that is destroying trees, walls and ceilings throughout South Florida.

Unlike many of their relatives, nasutitermes corniger build basketball-sized nests above ground and dig visible brown tunnels on the sides of houses, which can cause serious damage for homeowners. While Department of Agriculture officials thought they eradicated the pests when they first turned up in Dania Beach in 2001, the termites showed up again last year, according to Sun Sentinel.

The organization is currently planning pest control initiatives to eradicate the species before spring, when nasutitermes corniger fly around to form new colonies and increase their populations.

Barbara Thorne is a professor of entomology at the University of Maryland and is helping plan the campaign.

"Certainly all of South Florida could be at risk, up into Central Florida," Thorne told the newspaper. "Once this gets out, there will be no containing it, ever. So we're trying to deal with this now."

While a similar campaign took place last year, officials said it wasn't as successful as they had hoped.

Nasutitermes corniger, or tree termites, which are native to rainforests, are beneficial to their home environment because they eat dead wood on the exterior of trees. However, these pests can wreak havoc in residential areas. They destroy outer frameworks and materials used to build walls and structures. Tree termites can also severely damage roofs. Often, wood infested by this species requires replacement. To avoid mounting renovation costs, homeowners should contact a pest control professional promptly if they suspect tree termites.  

Spotting an infestation
While a ballooning nest may be an obvious sign of infestation, the early starts of a nasutitermes corniger population can be difficult to detect, as they build large colonies before establishing a home. These bugs present an especially serious threat because they don't nest underground or compete for space resources with other termite species. A home is therefore at risk of infestations from above and below, Department of Agriculture officials explained to Sun Sentinel.

Florida officials say pest control experts are able to identify these critters. If residents spot insects around their house, they can put a sample in a bag and bring it to an exterminator for evaluation. Tree termites are about 3 to 4 millimeters in length and have cream-colored bodies and dark brown heads.

Homeowners who suspect a nest or tunnels on their property should take a picture and show it to a professional as soon as possible. One expert told The Miami Herald tree termite nests often resemble wasp nests.

Protecting the home
There are several measures residents can take to protect their home from a tree termite invasion. As they come from a tropical climate, nasutitermes corniger are attracted by moisture and humidity. While wetness may be difficult to control on outside walls, residents can ensure their roofs aren't leaky and repair any water damage immediately following rainfall.

Because these termites forage on the ground, homeowners may also consider monitoring moisture in their yard and eliminating brush buildup to prevent any potential problems with the bugs.

Preventing roof rat infestations

As fall quickly turns into winter, many pests attempt to sneak their way into warm homes in search of food and shelter. Roof rats are named after their tendency to infest attics and the upper portions of structures, but they can be found in lower levels of buildings as well. Their tendency to chew up materials and ravage stored food can be extremely troublesome and dangerous for many households. In addition to damaging wiring and insulation, roof rats can spread infectious diseases such as salmonella and rat-bite fever to residents and pets via saliva, urine and droppings. Throughout history, roof rats have also been notorious for spreading plague.

Protecting the home
There are several steps homeowners can take to avoid inviting roof rats into their houses this season. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) recommends sealing up any holes or cracks larger than a quarter that appear in outdoor walls, piping and foundation.

Like most pests, roof rats look for sources of moisture. It's therefore a good idea to repair leaky faucets, pipes and water heaters. After heavy rain, homeowners may want to inspect attics and basements for water damage. Residents can also purchase a dehumidifier to eliminate moisture buildup.

The NPMA also suggests keeping trees and shrubs trimmed and away from buildings and cleaning up trash outdoors and around areas in which garbage is stored  to avoid attracting roof rats. Homeowners should also always seal trash in bags and place it in tightly covered bins.

Spotting roof rats
There are several noticeable characteristics that can help homeowners identify roof rats. They grow between six and eight inches long, not including their tails, and are usually black or dark brown. The University of Arizona's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences explains roof rats often treck through oil and dirt and leave their traces around rafters and other high places.

Scurrying sounds coming from the attic at night are also a sign of roof rat presence, as these pests search for food after sunset.

Roof rats are attracted to fruit hanging on trees and on the ground nearby. They make small holes in fruit peels to suck out the pulp and leave behind empty rinds, which are sign for property owners with orange trees to look out for. It's a good idea to harvest fruit consistently and to clean up fallen produce to keep the pests from having a food source close to a home. 

Upon noticing these signs or spotting roof rats, homeowners should call an exterminator to eliminate the infestation quickly and efficiently.

Marsh rats plague residents

Residents in areas of South Carolina are reporting increasing numbers of marsh rats, according to The Island Packet.

Local pest control organizations report sending crews to almost every plantation and roughly 50 to 60 homes per week in the area to catch the rodents and prevent them from causing damage to local residences. Some professionals believe because of warmer temperatures last winter, marsh rats were better able to survive. Meanwhile, the large amount of rain this year has provided the water necessary to support a growing population.

However, some local pest management professionals told the newspaper the population hasn't changed since last year, and the large amount of recent sightings can be attributed to high tides bringing the critters closer to coastal homes.

Whether the number of marsh rats has increased or not, the cold weather is sure to push these animals to seek warm havens, such as attics, storage spaces and other parts of homes, making it essential for homeowners to be aware of the pests.   

Rodents cause problems for homeowners
The Island Packet states many residents in Hilton Head Island, Bluffton and surrounding areas are concerned about contracting infectious diseases from the rats. While there have been no recent reports of hantavirus, the disease spreads through rodent droppings, saliva and urine and could show up in the area if pest populations are not kept under control. The illness can turn into Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, which can be fatal, according to the CDC.

To avoid attracting marsh rats and other rodents into buildings or onto their property, homeowners should fill all gaps and holes in outside walls, around fireplaces and doors and along piping. It's a good idea to place trash in thick plastic or metal garbage cans with strong lids to prevent the critters from seeking food near a home.

Pet food should never be left outside and should be stored in sealed containers indoors. Homeowners may want to clean up trash, brush and weeds and trim their property's grass and shrubbery to eliminate any potential hiding places for pests. According to the CDC, old tires and cars should be disposed of as mice and rats may nest in them.

If homeowners find rodent droppings, they should clean the area cautiously and call an exterminator immediately. This will help residents prevent potential property damage and rodent-related disease.

Pest problems creep up after Sandy

While homeowners begin repairing damages caused by Hurricane Sandy, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) is calculating the effects the storm had on pest populations in New York and New Jersey.

"Communities devastated by the storm will likely experience an increase in pest encounters due to displacement and destruction caused by flooding," said Jim Fredericks, Ph.D, technical director for the NPMA. "From the delay in sanitation services caused by power outages and road blockages, to the widespread structural damage and increased number of people staying at shelters, hotels or with family and friends, there are a number of ways Sandy will affect a variety of pest populations both in the short-term and months after the storm."

The organization has identified the following pests that will be of greatest concern to East Coast residents:

Rodents
While some rodents were killed during and after the hurricane, many have been displaced and are seeking shelter and food. NPMA explained the delay in garbage pickup in several areas is attracting rats and other mammal pests. Because sanitation crews will focus on "garbage" before debris, homeowners should separate food trash and construction rubbish. Rodents can carry many diseases, and residents should take precautions to avoid their carcasses.

Flies
Because flies breed in spoiled food, dead animals and backed up sewage, homeowners who experienced several days of lost power should be on the lookout for fungus gnats, phorid flies and other bugs. Residents should consider asking an exterminator to inspect their home's pipes to ensure no sewage leaks or plumbing problems are creating an ideal place for pests to live. 

Bed bugs
People forced out of their homes and into hotels and shelters or those who have received donated furnishings and clothing have an increased chance of finding bed bug infestations, according to the NPMA. The pest can "hitchhike" from person to person in close spaces and are difficult to eliminate, so seeking professional help immediately upon finding these pests is essential.

Termites
These bugs consider wet wood a feast, and many termites have been displaced by  flooding. It's a good idea for homeowners to ask a pest control professional to inspect their home's termite defenses to ensure the destructive critters don't cause additional damage to a residence already suffering from the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

San Antonio takes on local beehive

Days before Halloween, San Antonio removed a neighborhood beehive after residents complained of hundreds of bees swarming surrounding homes.

The hive was inside the exterior wall of a vacant house. Ruby Ortiz, who lives next door to the once infested home, told KSAT 12 she was afraid trick-or-treaters would get stung. Ortiz says the bees were entering her home. "They're starting to go into the kids' room, my daughter's room," she said. "They don't want to be in there because there's a whole swarm of bees inside."

Ortiz said she called the city several times over a two-month period, but received no response. She then emailed KSAT, which contacted the Metropolitan Health Department. Code Enforcement sent in a bee removal team.

According to the TV station, the emergency crew cut into the wall to remove honeycomb and bees. At first, the city refrained from intervening because of property rights. However, evidence of public danger reversed the decision.

"Where it could become a safety issue for the residents around there the city is allowed to go in and abate that and we'll charge the owner," the assistant director of Development Services told the station.

Bees can be extremely troublesome for homeowners and present serious danger to anyone who is allergic to their stings. Hives can be quickly and efficiently removed by professional pest control services.

Woman faces painful recovery from spider bite

A woman in Lafayette, Ind. is temporarily in a wheelchair as she recovers from a brown recluse spider bite.

Two weeks ago, an Indiana woman was bitten by the venomous spider on the leg while she was asleep, according to Lafayette-area CBS affiliate WLFI-TV. She assumed it was a normal bug bite until the injury started swelling and oozing pus. After visiting to her doctor, the wound was popped and she was given antibiotics.

Within 24 hours, however, the wound started growing once more. The woman went to the hospital, where she was brought into surgery immediately.

According to WLFI, brown recluse venom eats away at cells and  the victim had to have dead tissue removed. One doctor told the news source that brown recluse bites can be so severe they require amputation. The woman who received the bite told the station she is grateful to have avoided those measures, and hopes to be able to walk without pain soon.

Brown recluses are one the U.S.'s most deadly common spiders. As their name implies, they live a hermit-like life style in sheltered places like woodpiles, crevices and cracks. These spiders can be recognized by their brown, bulbous body and the violin-shaped marking on their backs. If a brown recluse is spotted or suspected, it's important to hire a pest control professional to avoid being bitten, as a bite can result in serious medical emergencies.