Keeping your home pest-free while you’re away

Whether homeowners are traveling for the winter holidays, taking advantage of a three-day weekend to get out of town or heading out on a summer vacation, nobody wants to come home to a pest infestation.

Here are three pest prevention tips residents should add to their to-do list before leaving their homes for an extended period of time.

1. Seal up cracks and crevices
It's a good idea to inspect all corners of a home, including in the basement and attic, for any openings in external walls, foundations, door frames, windows and roofing. Insects and rodents can sneak into homes through tiny holes for food, water and shelter. Mice can squeeze through spaces as small as a nickel, according to the National Pest Management Association. It's therefore a good idea to double-check for potential entryways before leaving home for several days.

2. Clean up
Creepy crawlers and furry intruders are attracted to rotting food, spills in the kitchen and garbage. Even a few dirty dishes can lure in an ant colony. It's a good idea to thoroughly wipe off surfaces, mop up messes and clean furniture every week. Vacuuming is also a good way to prevent any small critters that may have already intruded a home from reproducing. Homeowners should empty all garbage cans into trash bags, which should be sealed tightly and placed in bins with lids.

In addition, the odor of food left out or in packaging that isn't completely sealed can bring in pantry pests and other unwelcome guests. It's a good idea to conduct a walk-through of eating areas and food storage locations before leaving to ensure dry products and cooking supplies are stored correctly.

Meanwhile, clutter of any kind, including clothing, papers or wood piles outside provide some bugs with dark, sheltered places to nest and should be cleaned up.

Outdoors, brush and untrimmed trees can harbor nesting places for rodents that damage yards and look for structures to invade. It's a good idea to maintain a well-kept lawn and avoid placing pet food outside to keep away raccoons and rats.

3. Eliminate moisture
It's never a good idea to wait until after a trip to fix a leaky faucet or dripping pipes. Moisture, especially standing water, can lure in thirsty pests. Residents can check around water heaters, in attics and basements for water damage caused by rainfall.

The last thing homeowners want to see upon returning from a vacation is a pest infestation. If residents suspect a problem, they should notify an exterminator promptly.

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When traveling, avoid unwanted stowaways

Million of people will travel near and far this holiday season. From visiting family to exploring new places, there is one souvenir that no traveler wants to bring home: Bed bugs. These pests can latch onto humans in hotels, movie theaters and buses and they can cause an extremely aggravating and expensive infestation upon entering a home. It's a good idea for homeowners to protect themselves with these travel tips.

Inspect, inspect and inspect
Whether homeowners are staying in a hotel or at Grandma's, they should thoroughly inspect their room before settling down. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) highly recommends keeping suitcases on tile or wood floors before bringing them onto carpet room.

Using a flashlight travelers should inspect the entire room, including curtains, dressers and couches and other furniture.

Upon approaching the bed, it's a good idea to pull the sheets back completely and inspect the mattress cover and seams and the bed's headboard for small brown marks, peppery flakes of shedded skin and lentil-size bed bugs.

If travelers who are staying in a hotel notice any signs of bed bugs, they should alert management immediately and ask to be moved to a different room. Because bed bugs can travel on cleaning carts and through wall sockets, it's a good idea to ask for a room that is not next door, above or below the infested area.

Take care of personal items
To avoid inviting pests into luggage, travelers may consider covering their suitcases in trash bags and keeping them off the ground on luggage racks throughout their trip, advises NPMA. Hanging clothes up will limit the chances of sneaky pests infesting them.

In addition, placing clothing in sealed plastic bags will protect items against bed bugs. It's always a good idea to check personal property periodically when traveling to ensure pests haven't latched onto clothing in public places.

Protecting the home upon returning
After flying or driving many miles, the last thing homeowners want to deal with is a bug problem. It's a good idea to unpack luggage outside to avoid bringing in any unwanted stowaways.

All clothing, whether dirty or not, should be brought into the house in a plastic bag and washed immediately in hot water. Dry-clean only items should stay outside until homeowners can take them to the cleaners.

After emptying a suitcase, residents should vacuum each corner and thoroughly inspect crevices and pockets.

If homeowners suspect they've brought home bed bugs, they should contact a pest control professional promptly.

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Keeping pests out of a shed (411)

While residents may notice a pest infestation in their homes early on, bugs and rodents can harbor in yard sheds and storage structures for a while before their presence becomes apparent. Especially during winter months, pests look for food and shelter in humid, covered areas. If homeowners suspect unwelcome visitors, they should contact a pest control professional promptly. However, there are several steps homeowners can take to limit the chances of an infestation.

Prepare from outside in
Wood dwelling critters like termites can severely damage the foundations, walls and roofs of garden sheds. If these bugs aren't dealt with quickly upon first notice, they can cost homeowners hefty sums in repair and replacement fees. It's therefore essential to eliminate elements that attract the pests.

Because rats, mice and many creepy crawlers can enter structures through seemingly tiny holes, it's a good idea to seal up any crack or crevices in external walls, foundation and piping.

Pests are lured by moisture and standing water. It's always important to clean up water and other liquid spills promptly. To eliminate humidity, residents should inspect external and internal faucets and eliminate any leaks in pipes and valves. Homeowners may also consider purchasing a dehumidifier to dry up the shed's interior.

Because a lack of ventilation can foster the stuffy environment many bugs are used to, it's a good idea to place a fan in larger storage structures. Homeowners may also consider opening and closing shed doors every day or so to let fresh air in.

Watch what you store
Sheds can be a great place to keep gardening tools, infrequently used appliances and other household items. However, residents should be very cautious about what they store.

Moths, beetles and other pantry pests can get into dry foods and grain, endangering residents and causing headaches for those whose products are destroyed. Meanwhile, rats and raccoons can contaminate pet food, putting furry friends at risk of bacterial diseases.

Dry products and soil should always be stored in an airtight container and inspected frequently and before use for signs of pests, such as dropping, larvae and rips or holes in packaging. Items like holiday decorations, clothing and bedding that are placed in a shed should be cleaned thoroughly and sealed in bins. Cooking appliances should also be effectively cleaned and free of food residue.

Firewood should never be kept in or near sheds. It's best to place it outdoors on a platform to keep pests away. Meanwhile, if a trash bin is kept inside the shed, residents should empty it frequently.

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Keeping rodents from cozying up in your home this winter

Tis the season to watch out for pests. As temperatures drop during winter months, critters try to make their ways indoors. Rats and mice can infest attics, basements, pantries and improperly stored holiday decorations. If homeowners suspect they're housing unwelcome guests, a pest management professional can address the problem early and effectively. There are several common perpetrators residents should be aware of during this time of year.

House mice
These mice are among the most troublesome rodents in the U.S., according to the University of California's (UC) Integrated Pest Management program (IPM). House mice are about 5 to 7 inches in length and have relatively large ears. These critters are most active at night when they search for food. While they can be found outdoors, house mice enter homes by sneaking through seemingly tiny cracks and crevices in external walls and foundations.

Common signs of house mouse infestations include droppings, gnaw marks and tracks. In addition, they carry a noticeable musky odor, according to the IPM. These mice build nests of shredded paper and other fibrous materials in areas like attic corners.

In addition to bringing fleas, gnats, ticks and lice into the home, the house mice can endanger children, who are susceptible to allergies caused by urine droplets, states the National Pest Management Association (NPMA).

Because house mice can fit through holes the size of a nickel, homeowners should seal all holes that have a diameter larger than a pencil, NPMA recommends. Outdoor drains and gutters should also be thoroughly inspected.

Roof rats
As their name implies, these rodents have a tendency to occupy upper parts of structures. They can enter attics through nearby trees and phone lines, according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management. They can also be found under and around homes, sheds and other structures. Like house mice, these rats can squeeze through very small holes.

Roof rats can cause extensive damage to wiring, insulation and yards. They're about 6 to 8 inches in length and can be a mix of brown, black, gray and white. They feed off of a variety of fruits and nuts primarily, but they've been known to eat meat products like pet food. It's therefore extremely important for residents to store food in sealed containers and to avoid feeding pets outdoors and leaving food out.

Because these pests tend to live high up in structures, their droppings, urine and nests aren't usually noticeable. Homeowners can look for smudge parks along ceiling beams because roof rats often come into contact with oil and dirt when they travel through aerial passages, the Internet Center states. Another sign of an infestation is sounds in the attic at night.

Roof rats have been associated with a variety of diseases like food poisoning, rat-bite fever, typhus and more. In addition to sealing up holes, homeowners should remove sources of moisture throughout their property to avoid attracting these pests, NPMA suggests. It's also a good idea to keep yards clear of brush and any fruit that falls from trees. In addition, homeowners should cut back and tree limbs and shrubs that are near the house.

Norway rats
Norway rats are very similar in many ways to their roof-dwelling cousins. These brownish, reddish or gray pests are omnivorous and live in and around structures and woodpiles. They can can cause severe damage to foundation, slabs, electrical wires, water pipes and insulation by gnawing and burrowing, according to the Internet Center.

When Norway rats enter a home, they can attack food storage containers and infest dry goods and pet food. They're also known to transmit serious diseases.

If homeowners spot fluorescent dry or wet urine, burrows in walls, along fences and next to buildings, they should contact an exterminator promptly to have their infestation eliminated.

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Watch out for firewood pests

As temperatures go down this season, fireplaces are a great source of warmth and provide a pleasant gathering space for many households. Homeowners may be inclined to keep firewood either in or near their homes during colder months. However, residents doing so may unknowingly be harboring troublesome and dangerous pests. To avoid contact and infestation, firewood should always be kept on a platform outside, away from inhabited structures. Residents should be aware of the types of bugs that nest in firewood and lumber.

Wood-boring beetles
According to Purdue University's Department of Entomology, several species of beetles can take over woodpiles, long-horned beetles being the most common. These critters lay their eggs in still-standing trees. Therefore, when firewood is chopped and sold, it may already house larvae and fully grown beetles. While these bugs favor ash, oak and hickory trees, they'll settle for other options. Long-horned beetles are attracted to moisture and warmer temperatures. Therefore, if infested wood is brought inside, these pests may emerge and travel throughout the home.

Meanwhile, residents who embellish their fireplace with logs found outside may be welcoming flathead borer beetles into their home. These bugs emerge during warmer months. While they don't attack finished or dried wood, they can be very destructive for yard trees.

It's very important to inspect wood before purchasing or handling it. In addition, Purdue strongly advises against moving and transporting firewood long distances.

Carpenter ants
Damp wood and firewood stacks that insulate humidity can harbor black or red carpenter ants. As their name suggests, they excavate dead wood to build their nests, according to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA). While these ants may initially be attracted by wet, decaying tree parts, they can also build paths through dry, undamaged wood. If residents bring infested wood near or into their homes, carpenter ants can start attacking building structures and damaging wiring and yard plants.

It's a good idea to eliminate any cracks in walls, windows and doors, as carpenter ants and other pests can travel through them. Residents should also eliminate moisture in their homes and get rid of standing water on their property.

Termites
Wood stacked on the ground is like a free hotel and meal for drywood termites. These pests form colonies of up to 2,500 members quickly, and can be especially difficult to get rid of, the NPMA explains. To check for termite infestation, homeowners can inspect wood for mud tunnels.

Termites can cause serious damage to buildings and structures and are usually associated with hefty repair and replacement costs. While burning pest-carrying wood immediately may not cause an infestation, firewood left leaning against an outside wall of a home allows these bugs to tunnel indoors.

Commercial pest management professionals can help homeowners identify and exterminate termites and other troublesome bugs that may enter a structure via firewood.

Spiders
While many firewood spiders are harmless, there are a few dangerous species homeowners should be aware of. Black widows are notorious for their venom, as bites can cause severe pain and sometimes be fatal. These spiders harbor in dark places at ground levels, which makes woodpiles extremely susceptible to their presence.

Another important species to be aware of is the brown recluse.These nocturnal spiders tend to live outdoors in piles of wood or debris. According to the NPMA, a brown recluse bite is extremely painful and can produce an open, ulcerating sore.

Homeowners should always approach firewood with caution and wear gloves. The safest way to get rid of dangerous spiders and other wood-dwelling critters is to call a pest control professional.

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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.

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Recognizing pantry pests and preventing an infestation

With the holidays around the corner, many homeowners are pulling out baking supplies to create seasonal goodies. Nothing can dampen the spirit of fun in the kitchen quite like a pantry pest infestation. Bugs can invade flower, sugar, cereal, rice, nuts and other packaged foods commonly brought out of the cupboard during the holidays..

To avoid inviting these pests into their pantries and cupboards, homeowners should learn to identify infestations and have them treated by a professional immediately.

According to the University of California Davis' Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, pantry pests are often brought into the home in infested packages of food. Homeowners should examine their groceries to ensure they are not bringing pests into their homes and pantries.

Meal moths
The Indian meal moth is the most common species found in pantries, states UC Davis. Larvae attack cereal, flour, cornmeal, dried fruit, pasta, candy and other stored products. A grown indian meal moth is recognizable by reddish-brown and whitish-gray wings. Their eggs hatch within a few days into white caterpillars.

Because these bugs travel far to pupate, or transform, they may found be outside the kitchen and infest other areas of the home.

Pantry beetles
There are several species of beetles that are commonly found in dry foods. Warehouse beetles, sawtoothed grain beetles and the drugstore beetle are just of a few of them.

These critters attack a variety of products and most lay eggs in packages of pasta, cocoa, nuts, dried beans and more. Some species have short life cycles, while others can live up to three years.

Infestation dangers
In addition to being troublesome, the presence of bugs in the kitchen can be extremely dangerous. UC Davis explains pests contaminate food with their bodies and byproducts. Secretion, webbing and excrement created by moths and beetles in their larval phases give foods disagreeable odors and taste. Meanwhile, warehouse beetle setae, or hair, can irritate the mouth, throat and stomach if ingested. Pantry pests can also bring microbes into food, which produce highly carcinogenic compounds.

Taking a stand
To avoid opening their pantry and cabinet doors to these bugs, homeowners can take precautionary measures to keep food safe.

It's a good idea to inspect all food storage space periodically to ensure it's not infested. The National Pest Management Association (NPMA) advises residents to seal up any cracks or crevices around the home to avoid any kind of infestation.

The NPMA also highly recommends investing in airtight containers for all dry foods and checking expiration dates of ingredients before using them to bake or cook. Placing a bay leaf in dried foods can help to keep beetles away. 

When shopping for goods, residents should inspect the packaging thoroughly. If bags or cardboard show any sign of even slight damage, homeowners may consider alerting the grocer.

Good sanitation goes a long way in preventing visits from unwelcome bugs. Spills and crumbs should be cleaned up immediately and cupboards and shelves should be wiped down frequently. Not only can this help to keep pests away, it can also help a homeowner discover an infestation in a timely manner.

When preparing for festivities, homeowners should inspect decorations made of dried plants, like potpourri and Indian corn to ensure they aren't home to any pests that could invade their pantry. These festive items should be stored in sealed containers and unpacked outdoors before bringing them in the home.

If pantry pests continue to be an issue after infested food is disposed of, homeowners should contact an exterminator.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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