While you may be ready to pull out your bags of candy and chocolate for those neighborhood trick-or-treaters, there is something else that you should be ready to deal with in this month of more than just friendly ghouls and goblins.
October brings with it not just a fun holiday, but also some unpleasant bugs that may invade your home. The pests we will focus on this month all have in common their tendency to bite humans and even draw blood. The four pests of October to look out for include: bed bugs, mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas.
Bed bugs feed on mostly human blood, by puncturing the skin with their elongated beaks. While their bites can be a rude awakening in the middle of the night, it has never been proven that bed bugs actually carry disease-causing pathogens, at least in the United States.
Bed bugs spread through clothing and baggage of travelers and through secondhand beds, bedding, furniture and laundry. Experts believe that the cause for the rise in bed bugs are due to an increase in global travel and mobility, the banning of DDT along with reduced use of urban pesticides. In fact, about a year ago, a wide-scale bedbug epidemic enveloped New York City. While the bed bug threat is not a red flag in Texas, homeowners should employ control methods to keep them from hiding in mattresses, clothing, and/or other bedding.
Control Bed Bugs
First, you must know where the bed bugs are hiding in order to remove them. Once you know where they are, improve sanitation by vacuuming or removing the bugs by hand. Depending on your situation, you may need to treat the infested area with an insecticide approved for this use and specifically for bed bug control. Spray or dust bed slats, springs, frame, and other hiding places in the room. Do not use any insecticide on a mattress unless the product label specifically gives directions for this use.
It is impossible to cover all bed bug hiding places, so control is not immediate. You may see living bugs for a week to ten days after application. After this timeframe, you can apply a second treatment to kill the newly hatching bugs. The pesticides used for bed bug control have a short residual life, and so this second application is always needed.
Some additional prevention/control methods include:
- Store all your accessible food in rodent-proof containers such as glass or metal
- Bag up all clothing in plastic garbage bags, which must be sealed airtight.
- Dry-clean garments. Chemicals in dry-cleaning can kill bedbugs; washers and dryers will kill them only at temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Bag books, papers, pictures, most loose objects and contents of closets to exterminators have access to all cracks and crevices in the home.
If your bed bug situation is serious and will not be solved by do-it-yourself methods, please contact a professional to assist you.
While bed bugs do not carry diseases, mosquitos are a whole other story. Besides the annoyance factor, mosquitoes can also transmit many disease-causing organisms to humans and animals. They spread such diseases as West Nile virus, encephalitis, dengue, yellow fever, malaria and filariasis. Mosquitoes are also responsible for transmitting heartworm in dogs.
The TX Cooperative Extension provides many ways to prevent mosquitos from invading your home and biting you and your family:
Eliminate breeding sites for larvae
- Reduce standing water that provides breeding sites. Eliminate containers such as old tires, buckets, cans and bottles that collect and hold rainwater and become good breeding sites for mosquitoes. Drain water from flower pots, bird baths, rain gutters, rain barrels, birdbaths, pet dishes, livestock watering troughs, etc. at least once a week.
- Empty your plastic wading pool weekly and store it indoors when not in use.
- Fill holes or depressions in trees with sand or mortar, or drain them after each rain by drilling holes into the tree.
- Repair leaky pipes and outside faucets.
Reduce adult mosquito populations
- Mow tall grass or reduce the amount of brush and other foliage in your area to reduce the resting sites for adult mosquitoes.
- For temporary relief in yards or high traffic areas, use fog treatments or surface treatments of insecticides that are labeled for that use and apply them following directions on the product label. Avoid contact with mosquitoes.
- Use screening in your homes and pet kennels. Keep the screens in good repair and be sure that they seal around the frames of the door or window.
- Schedule outdoor activities during times when mosquitoes are not active. Mosquito species that are active at dusk and dawn can often be avoided. Species that bite throughout the day are more difficult to avoid.
- Wear long, loose-fitting clothing to avoid mosquito bites. Use head nets when mosquitoes are abundant.
- Use repellents whenever in a mosquito infested location.
- For short-term relief in outdoor areas such as patios and picnic areas, use a fogger and citronella candles or punks as a deterrent.
- Protect your pets with heart-worm treatments, which can be purchased from grocery stores or pet specialty stores.
Ticks can be found on both humans and dogs. In urban areas, the most common tick is the brown dog tick. Dogs can become seriously infested with ticks to the point where it can be fatal, due to heavy blood loss. Ticks usually feed on more than one host during their lives, thus, they are able to transmit diseases to both humans and animals. Some transmitted diseases can be similar to the flu while others result in rashes, fever, or joint stiffness. If you experience any abnormal rash or illness after being bitten by a tick, the best thing to do would be to seek a doctor for treatment.
Ticks can cause many ailments. Some of them include: itching and inflammation of the skin, swelling around the bite, infections, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia (a disease that affects the lymph nodes and causes fever), and lyme disease-a disease that can cause arthritis and nervous disorders.
Cattle pastures, brushy areas and the edges of forests and fields are the best places for ticks. Ticks stick themselves to your skin when they bite. Using hot matches or grease will not remove ticks from your skin and can even increase the risk of infection. Instead, to remove ticks, grasp the tick as close to the head as possible with tweezers. Remove it with a firm, slow pull without twisting. Do not touch it or crush it with your bare hands because you may pick up germs or be at risk for infection. Apply an antiseptic to the skin after removing the tick. You can follow the same steps to remove ticks from a pet.
Protect yourself and your pets from tick bites by following some of the control methods the Cooperative suggests:
- Make it harder for ticks to enter clothing by tucking shirttails inside pants and wearing long pants and shirts.
- Use duct tape or wide masking tape to seal pants cuffs to boots. Tucking your pants legs inside your socks is also effective.
- Avoid sitting on the ground or on logs in brushy, tick-infested areas. Ticks often crawl around on a host for hours before biting. When in tick-infested areas, have a friend check you frequently for ticks before they attach.
- Around the home, keep tall grass and weeds cut short. Ticks like to climb vertical surfaces to rest after feeding. When treating yards for brown dog ticks, spray the siding of the house, fences, trees and other hiding places as well as the lawn.
- When using insecticides, follow label directions carefully and do not apply more than is recommended. Tick insecticides can be dangerous to pets and children if misapplied.
The last of the four blood suckers is the tiny and wingless flea. While small and almost microscopic, fleas ironically cost Americans almost $9 billion a year to control them. In Texas, the most common flea problems are caused by the cat flea, which feeds on cats, dogs, and wildlife. This particular type of flea does not normally live on humans, but do bite people who come in close contact with infested animals.
Flea bites cause small, red, itchy bumps, usually on the ankles and lower legs. People with allergies to flea bites suffer from hives, rashes or generalized itching. Allergic reactions usually appear 12 to 24 hours after a bite, and may last a week or more.
Fleas that have fed on rodents may transmit diseases, including plague and murine typhus. Protect yourself from these diseases by avoiding close contact with wild rodents such as squirrels, rats, and prairie dogs. On the other hand, cat fleas do not carry plague.
The Cooperative suggests keying in to an integrated flea control program to prevent and eliminate fleas from the home.
Sanitation: Change pet bedding regularly and vacuum thoroughly. Vacuuming removes up to 30 percent of the larvae and up to 60 percent of flea eggs from a carpet, as well as the larvae’s food supply of dried blood. Vacuum under furniture, cushions, chairs, beds, and along walls. Discard vacuum cleaner bags at least once a week. Fleas can continue to develop inside vacuum cleaner bags and re-infest the house.
Treating Pets: Your pet’s first line of defense against fleas is a flea comb and a good bath. Soap acts as a gentle insecticide and helps control light infestations on your pet. Though time consuming, combing helps reduce the need for insecticides. Flea combs have fine teeth that remove adult fleas from fur. Most dogs and cats seem to enjoy this treatment – pay special attention to the face and neck, and the area in front of the tail. Dip the comb frequently in soapy water or an alcohol solution to kill fleas removed from the pet. Insect growth regulators, or IGRs, are a safe preventative treatment for fleas. Spot-on treatments (pesticides applied to one or more spots on the animal’s back) control adult fleas effectively. Natural oils on the fur also help transfer the pesticide to all parts of the pet’s body.
Got Fleas, but No Pets?
Just because your home doesn’t have pets does not mean that you are 100% safe from fleas. Homes can become infested with fleas when no pets are present. Wild animals such as bats, roof rats, squirrels, raccoons, and wild dogs and cats around the home, especially if you live in a highly wooded and forested area, may be the source of an infestation.
Call a pest control professional to seal off any openings that wildlife and rodents may use to enter your home.
While October may be a month of Halloween and fun festivities, make sure you know how to control bed bugs, mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas, before they control your home, family, and pets!