Friday, April 21, 2017

Boozy beetle wreaks havoc on lawn mower

The tiny camphor shoot borer with a taste for
boring into gasoline containers. Photo by Adam
Sheffield. 
Every now and then I get a note about a pest so bizarre it's kind of hard to believe. This afternoon I received an email through one of our county offices from a citizen having problems with insects boring into his riding lawn mower gas tank.  He knew it was an insect that made the perfectly round holes, because they were still inside some of the holes, and he was able to carefully extract about 15 of them.

And this wasn't the first time.  His neighbor had a similar experience with his mower being damaged by the little pests the previous spring.

Being good at your job doesn't mean that you know all the answers, but it does involve knowing where to go for the answers. In this case I got lucky.  I put out an inquiry about gas sniffing beetles to entomology colleagues, and immediately got several replies.

Some of my colleagues recalled a paper put out in 2011 by Chris Carlton and Victoria Bayless at the Louisiana State Arthropod Museum.  They had published a scientific note describing cases where a small beetle had been found boring into plastic gas cans.  The authors identified the beetle as a type of bark beetle called camphor shoot borer (CSB), Cnestus mutilatus.

One of the gas cans enshrined in the Louisiana State
Arthropod Museum as a testament to the determined
bark beetle that loves its gasahol.  This can had over 150
holes cause by the beetles. From Carlton and Bayless, 2011.
The finding must have impressed even my Louisiana colleagues because, as they reported in their paper, the can is now permanently stored at the Lousiana State insect museum.

The CSB is yet another insect that's not native to this country.  It was first reported in the U.S. in 2004, and is now found throughout the Southeast from NC to TX. It normally feeds on a variety of hardwoods, but especially sweetgum. In Texas it's more likely to be found in the eastern part of the state.

One entomologist pointed out that these beetles are commonly attracted to his alcohol-baited traps used to collect other bark beetles.  Since most gasoline these days contains alcohol, it makes sense that alcohol may be what's attracting these little guys to lawn mowers.

Aside from patching tanks with duct tape, how can we use what we know about this insect to prevent it from ruining lawn mowers and perhaps causing fiery mayhem from Charlotte to Houston?  A glance at the collection data stored on BugGuide suggests that this beetle is active primarily in the spring (March to June).  So protecting gasoline containers in the spring is particularly important.  Storing gas canisters and mowers in enclosed sheds or under some type of tarpaulin may be helpful, especially in the spring. Keeping the outside of the plastic fuel canisters free of spilled gas also might help.

The last solution might involve finding gasoline that doesn't contain alcohol.  But that might be harder than building a new shed for the mower.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Unlicensed applicators in schools?

It has come to our attention that a bill has recently been introduced in the Texas legislature that would eliminate Texas state requirements for persons applying pesticides in public schools to be a licensed applicator.  HB 3590 was recently introduced by James Frank of Wichita Falls. It's a very short bill, and says merely that "a school district employee is not required to hold a license... to apply at a school building or other school district facility, in a manner consistent with the label, a pesticide that is available for purchase by unlicensed members of the public." [my emphasis]

While I and my fellow extension employees will not take a public position on any state legislation, I think it might be useful to make you aware of the issue.  To be clear about what the bill does, it would allow teachers, custodial staff, coaches, administrative assistants, kitchen employees or any other school district employee to apply insecticides at their own discretion in a school or athletic field.  This would bypass the normal process of pesticide approval and the authority of IPM plans as determined by the IPM Coordinator of the district.

As you think about how you feel about this requirement, here are some things to keep in mind:
  • School IPM requirements have been in place in Texas since 1995, and have become widely accepted and followed by school districts throughout the state.  While some school leaders have expressed concern over the IPM restrictions and licensing costs, our data show that safer practices are being adopted by schools and that overall knowledge of IPM and its implementation has increased significantly.
  • Licensing and training ensures that pesticide applicators are aware of the risks and rules governing pesticide use.  Licensed applicators are also trained in pest identification and how to determine the best and safest means of managing any given pest.  The rationale behind licensing is that untrained and unlicensed applicators attempting to control pests are less likely to be successful, and more likely to apply pesticides unsafely or unnecessarily.
  • Current rules already allow for certain unlicensed school employees to apply pesticides under limited "emergency" circumstances; however some verifiable instruction is required to ensure that the employees understand the pesticide label and how to use a product safely.
  • With the exception of a few restricted use pesticides, nearly any professional pesticide product or active ingredient is currently available for purchase by unlicensed members of the public via feed and seed stores, garden centers, hardware stores or online outlets.  Any of these products, if used without discretion or without following label directions exactly, can be dangerous to the health of children and school employees.
  • As was pointed out in a 1999 Government Accounting Office report on pesticides in schools: "Children are at greater risk from pesticide exposure than most adults because, pound for pound of body weight, children breathe more, eat more, and have more rapid metabolisms than adults, and they also play on the floor and lawn where pesticides are commonly applied. Children have more frequent hand-to-mouth contact as well." Concern about the safety of school children and the need for a safe school environment was the driving force behind passage of the Texas School IPM regulations in 1991.
  • In a recent statewide survey, 88% of school IPM coordinators agreed that the rules and regulations requiring IPM helps their school district provide a safer place for children and staff.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Cockroach webinar worth your time

In case you've never heard of him, Dr. Coby Schal is the Blanton J. Whitmire Distinguished Professor of Urban Entomology at North Carolina State University. As one of the most respected researchers in cockroach biology and management, Dr. Schal is a friend of the pest control industry, and a talented communicator to boot. All this to say that if you ever have a chance to hear Coby talk about cockroaches, you should take advantage.

So here's the good news. On March 2, Cornell University's StopPest program will host Dr. Schal for a cockroach control webinar specifically designed for people working in multifamily housing.  While designed for multifamily apartment managers, this session should also be useful for pest management professionals.

Topics covered will include his research on effective baiting techniques, and ineffective controls like total release foggers (bug bombs).

Schal will talk about how cockroach allergens have been linked to the development and increase in symptoms of allergies and asthma in cockroach sensitive individuals. You'll learn how allergen levels can be significantly reduced with good pest control alone, and how gel bait treatments have revolutionized cockroach management (all good selling points when talking with apartment managers about their need for pest control).

Dr. Schal's work shows how an integrated pest management (IPM) approach with intensive, targeted cockroach control can lead to both dramatic reductions in cockroaches and clinically significant declines in cockroach allergens.

You can register for the webinar at the StopPests Now website. Email instructions will follow after you register.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Benefits of cockroach control

Before starting graduate school in entomology I worked as a pest control technician out of college. My accounts included a sprawling, multi-story public housing complex in Seattle, WA. These visits were frustrating to me, because of the difficulty (impossibility) of putting much of a dent in the well entrenched German cockroach population that scurried back and forth among these apartments.

One of my visits, however, was the home of a single mom. It was a short encounter, and I'm not sure I ever saw her again; but I'll never forget the mother's gratitude for my efforts to battle the cockroaches plaguing her and her daughter.  The woman's apartment, unlike many in the community, was uncluttered and very clean. It was obvious she was doing her part to keep cockroaches at bay, something that made my job a lot easier and more effective. Despite the feeling that I wasn't putting much of a dent in the overall cockroach problem in those apartments, I went home that night feeling a little better about my job in pest control.

Improved technology

Two major changes have occurred in cockroach control since the early 1980s.  First, we've learned a lot more about the health impacts of cockroaches over the past 25 years. Besides being unsanitary and capable of spreading disease pathogens, we now have solid evidence to show that cockroaches are major contributors to asthma morbidity, especially among children living in infested homes.  Indeed, the feces and shed exoskeletons of cockroaches have proved to be among the most important indoor asthma causes we know of.  Children who grow up in cockroach infested apartments have higher rates of asthma, more missed school days, and more doctor visits than do their more affluent classmates from cockroach-free homes.

Second, with the discovery of effective baits, we have much better tools for cockroach control today. The insecticides available to me in 1980 were mostly residual sprays and dusts that had to be applied directly to cockroach hiding places.  If counter-tops were not cleared and covered, or cupboards not emptied before I arrived, there was little I could safely do with my Ficam®, diazinon and malathion sprays and dusts.  In addition, many of these sprays were repellent to cockroaches, something that I learned later in grad school greatly reduces their effectiveness against insecticide-avoiding cockroaches.

Today pest management professionals and even homeowners have access to technologies that are safer and vastly superior to the old insecticides.  Containerized and gel baits, in particular, have revolutionized our industry's ability to manage cockroaches.  Although sanitation is still important for cockroach IPM, baits have shown an ability to suppress cockroach numbers even in cluttered and poorly maintained living quarters.

A number of studies have shown over the past 20 years that cockroach control and sanitation efforts could significantly reduce the quantity of cockroach allergens in apartments.  Indeed, the National Asthma Education and Prevention Program recommends reducing cockroach exposure as a critical step to take in reducing asthma risk.

Research news

A new study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology out this week is the first to show that cockroach baiting by itself can result in measurable improvements in the health of children. The researchers looked at the apartments of 102 children (aged 5-17 years), all of whose homes had some level of cockroach infestation.  Half of the children were assigned to homes that would be treated by researchers with cockroach baits, and half of the homes were left untreated by researchers.  All of the homes were sampled for cockroaches using Victor® Roach Pheromone Traps, and health indicators were measured for all the children (such as number of school days missed, medication used, days of wheezing, number of nights where children woke up, etc.).

Treatment of homes consisted of placing either Maxforce® FC Magnum, or Advion® cockroach bait gels in areas with evidence of active cockroach infestation.  Those who put out the bait were not trained PMPs, but were research staffers instructed to place baits in the back corners of kitchen cabinets, behind kitchen appliances, and inside bathroom vanities.  No other control methods were used.

The median cockroach numbers were significantly lower in treated homes vs. untreated. By the end of the study none of the baited homes had evidence of cockroach activity, compared to a 20% infestation rate of the untreated homes.

Interesting to me was that after the study began cockroach numbers in the untreated homes went from 100% infested to only 20% infested.  The authors of the study attributed the drop in untreated homes to "study effects".  People whose homes did not get treated, but were being monitored for cockroaches, took extra pains to clean up before the research team arrived, and they conducted additional cockroach control on their own, apart from insecticide baits applied by the researchers. This lead to an almost 85% reduction in trapped cockroach numbers in the control homes.

So it's even more remarkable that, despite the cockroach reductions in homes not receiving bait treatment, researchers still noted significantly better cockroach suppression with bait-treated homes and significant improvements in children's health.  In treated homes, for example, children had 47 fewer days a year with asthma symptoms compared to homes that were not treated with baits. Children in treated homes also had improved lung function and significantly fewer doctor visits compared to untreated homes, despite the relatively small sample size and relatively low cockroach levels in untreated homes.

These results should be carefully noted by the pest control industry.  With readily available, high-quality cockroach baits, and relatively easily taught skills, pest control technicians today can make a significant impact on the health and well-being of customers. In fact, I'm sure that the benefits of a highly skilled technician applying baits would accrue even faster and be more significant compared to untrained applicators.

When I consider how far cockroach control has come since my days with a B&G sprayer, these results are truly amazing.

I've said it before, and will say it again: the work you do as a PMP is very important.  Cockroach management in multifamily housing may not be very glamorous, but few other accounts provide the opportunity to better your customers' lives more.  And that's something that should make you feel even better when you go home at night.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Spring IPM Seminar in Dallas Next Month

Continuing education doesn't have to be a painful experience.
Last fall's IPM Seminar attracted nearly 400 applicators.
If you're a pesticide applicator in need of CEUs this year, I have some good news: no more yellow chairs.  For years, pesticide applicators have come faithfully to the Texas A&M AgriLife Center in Dallas for continuing education training.  And for years one of the consistent evaluation remarks we've received is that we need to "do something about" the hard, 1960's era Fiberglas chairs.

Starting next month we're no longer going to be sitting in those chairs for pesticide training. Instead, this spring the IPM seminars will be moving off campus to the nearby Richardson Civic Center.

The 2017 Spring IPM Seminar is scheduled for Thursday, February 23.  We have an excellent line-up of speakers, and offer a good lunch.  Cost will remain the same for 2017.

To register for the 2017 event, go online to http://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/IPM.

For a copy of the program, including directions to our new location, click here. This year's speakers and topics include:
  • Michael Kelly, with the Structural Pest Control Service/TDA in Austin, will speak on Pesticide Rules: What's new and what it means to you.
  • Sam Kieschnick, with Texas Parks and Wildlife in Dallas.  Urban Wildlife, including biology and behavior of bobcats and other troublesome mammals.
  • Dr. Casey Reynolds, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, will talk on Herbicide Selection, including understanding how different herbicides work, and how to select the best product for your needs.
  • Doug Van Gundy, Zoecon/Central Life Sciences, will talk about Pesticide formulations and their uses, also important for selecting the right product.
  • I will speak on Control strategies for the crapemyrtle bark scale, an important and difficult to control pest of the most common flowering shrub in north Texas.
If you attend, I can't guarantee that the new chairs will be any better (they won't be any more durable). The new facilities, however, will be great. We'll have more space, in a more comfortable environment, and bigger screens.  I believe you'll appreciate the change.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Rabies and the PMP

Last August I was out for an early morning run when a stray dog rushed me from an alleyway and knocked me down.  In light of other dog attacks in Dallas last summer, at least one of which was fatal, I feared the worst as the dog clamped onto my ankle.  But as soon as I recovered my wits enough to defend myself, the dog was off.  The whole incident probably took no more than five seconds.

Bonnie and Clyde. The dog on the left bit me in August and is still on the
loose. 
Uncollared, stray dogs are a rabies and public health risk, and should be 
reported to animal control. PMPs who encounter stray dogs or work with
wildlife should consider getting the rabies vaccine series. Photo

courtesy Plano Animal Services. 
Thus began my education about rabies and rabies vaccinations.  I've known a long time about the seriousness of the rabies virus: how when it takes hold of its victim it is almost certainly fatal; how a victim's last days are spent in convulsions, wanting and needing water but unable to swallow due to spasms of the voicebox; and how death from respiratory failure usually takes place within 3-5 days of when symptoms begin.

Although my bite was shallow, I knew enough about rabies to realize I shouldn't ignore it.  On the other hand, I wanted to make sure I really needed the shots (I hate shots).  I learned within a few days that the same dog had been responsible for biting others in my community, and that the local animal control was working hard to catch it and its partner. I hoped that perhaps the animal would be caught and would test negative.  In fact, several days after the attack I spoke to the head of animal control in our town who was very familiar with these criminal dogs. He told me that in his opinion, given their behavior, they were likely not rabid. He explained that almost always a dog that has become infectious will show symptoms of rabies including abnormal behavior, partial paralysis, or lethargy within five days.

At this point I had a big advantage of knowing someone in the Texas Department of State Health Services.  Dr. Shelly Stonecipher, at my local DSHS regional office was very helpful, answering my questions for over an hour, and advising me that the emergency room was probably my best, and most affordable, option.  My county health department, I was told, should have the necessary vaccines on hand, but would not take insurance and would have to charge the full wholesale cost of the vaccines.  This was my first big shock.  The health department cost for the first shot alone would likely be around $2,000.  The emergency room would be more expensive, but at least it would be covered by my health insurance.

Dr. Stonecipher explained that post-exposure treatment of rabies is very effective, but to work it needs to be given before symptoms occur (some sources say vaccination should take place within 1-6 days, other sources 10 days or more...a disturbingly loose margin of error). The treatment consists of five shots.  The first shot, called the human rabies immune-globulin shot, is given only if a bite has taken place and infection possibly already occurred.  The purpose of this shot is to confer rapid, though shorter lived immunity to the rabies vaccine.  This was the most uncomfortable of the injections, though not as bad as what I was told rabies shots used to be like (painful injections to the abdomen were the standard treatment up until the 1980s). I was told by my emergency room doctor that at least half of the 10 ml immune-globulin shot is supposed to be administered as close as possible to the site of the bite.

One online source says this shot should be given the day of the bite.  However, in my case, no one I talked to in the medical community seemed especially urgent about my getting the shot immediately. I thought I could wait up to 10 days, the quarantine time for some domestic animals.  This would, I'd hoped, buy some time for the dog to be caught [It never was caught and is still, six months later, on the loose in my community--our neighbors now refer to them darkly as Bonnie and Clyde].  As it was, I waited eight days; but if I had to do it over I probably would not have waited more than five days.

The next part of treatment is four rabies vaccine shots given in the arm--one the same day as the immune-globulin shot, and the others on days 3, 7 and 14 after the first shot.  Rabies vaccine confers longer term immunity via antibodies.  But the vaccine may not work quickly enough to prevent rabies if someone has already been bitten by a rabid animal. That's why these are given in combination with immune-globulin.

The vaccine shots were easy and painless compared to the monster immune-globulin shot.  This rabies vaccine series is what anyone wanting pre-exposure rabies prophylaxis would receive.  After getting my first immunization at the emergency room, I was told that the most affordable and convenient way to get the rest of the series was through one of the local clinics that specialize in vaccines for travelers. Luckily there was a Passport Health office near my workplace.  Also, I discovered that some hospitals carry rabies vaccine shots which you can get by making an appointment and thus avoiding the emergency room.

I was surprised by two things regarding my dog attack.  First, no one I spoke with seemed to care or really have strong opinions on when or whether to start the course of treatment. Some medical offices seemed not to know a lot about rabies treatment. Websites had conflicting information about virus incubation periods. In other words, I was on my own to figure out what to do about my health.

My second surprise was the cost.  Even with insurance, my out-of-pocket cost for the vaccine series alone was close to $1,000.  Even more appalling, the following month the bill from the hospital arrived.  The overall bill to myself and my insurance provider for an immune-globulin shot, first vaccine, and 15 minutes of an ER doctor's time, came to $10,179.  The itemized bill (which I had to request) listed the immune-globulin shot as the biggest expense, $8,318!  According to the hospital, after "discounts" and insurance contributions I personally still owed over $1,800.  All this to say, saving your life after a bite from a rabies infected animal is expensive--even with insurance. Estimates of cost of rabies post-exposure treatment on the Internet are highly variable, but my sticker-shock experience does not appear to be unique.

Advice for PMPs
Fortunately, human rabies cases and deaths in the U.S. are relatively rare, averaging 2-3 people a year.  This low rate is due to the wide use and effectiveness of the rabies vaccine, but it doesn't mean that precautions are unnecessary. The CDC recommends that veterinarians and staff, animal control and pest control professionals, spelunkers, and rabies laboratory workers be offered the rabies vaccine.  The vaccine should also be considered for any one whose activities bring them into frequent contact with potentially rabid animals, and for international travelers who might come in contact with rabid animals (treatment may not be readily accessible in all foreign areas).

My ten pieces of advice for anyone in the pest control industry concerned about rabies:
  • If bitten by a stray animal or any wildlife known to be a potential rabies carrier, don't ignore the bite. Talk to your personal or ER doctor to assess your risk, and determine whether you need treatment for rabies. Wash the wound site from any animal bite as soon as you can with soapy water and iodine based disinfectant. 
  • If possible, take steps to have the offending animal, like a bat, captured for testing. It could help you avoid expensive post-exposure prophylaxis. Care should be taken not to damage the head of the captured animal, as this may prevent laboratory testing for rabies. Your doctor or veterinarian, or in Texas any of the Department of State Health Services regional offices, can assist with instructions on how to submit an animal for testing. 
  • Don't attempt to feed wildlife or touch any stray or feral animal.  Use proper protective gear, including double plastic bags, when picking up dead animals. 
  • Make sure your own pets and livestock, including horses, dogs, cats and ferrets, are up-to-date on their rabies vaccines.  
  • If you work under conditions that bring you into close contact with bat roosts, do bat removal, or do urban wildlife control, getting the pre-exposure rabies vaccination series is highly recommended. It is much cheaper and easier than post-exposure treatment.
  • Even if you are pre-vaccinated, you may still require a series of two post-exposure vaccine boosters after a bite from a possibly rabid animal.  This is still much cheaper than post-exposure treatment. Check with your doctor.
  • When working around bats, bites sometimes go unnoticed. Bat bites may be extremely small and generally painless. ANY unprotected physical contact with a live bat puts you at risk for rabies--another good reason for rabies pre-exposure vaccine.
  • If you must handle a live bat, use thick leather wildlife gloves.  
  • If you must enter areas of large bat colonies consider wearing a fit-tested respirator. Rabies is thought to be contracted only through bites; however there is some circumstantial evidence that urine or feces might on occasion be capable of aerial transmission, especially in areas of dense bat numbers. 
  • If you've been bitten recently by a dog or other wildlife and not gotten the post-exposure treatment, consider getting it.  Rabies virus can incubate in humans quietly for months after exposure. Although ideally its best to start the shots very soon after the bite, the post exposure prophylaxis can be effective as long as it is given before symptoms appear.  

Given that Bonnie and Clyde are still healthy and on the loose in my town, I'm pretty sure that my emergency room visit and bills last summer were unnecessary.  But if it happened again, I wouldn't do anything differently, except possibly start my treatment earlier. The risk of rabies is nothing to take lightly, and I feel better knowing that I have a pre-exposure protection. 



Animals at risk for rabies
Rabies is found only in mammals, especially carnivores and bats.  Animals that can and do get rabies include:

  • Skunks are among the highest risk mammals, especially in the south. 
  • Raccoons are the most commonly infected wild animal in the eastern U.S.
  • Bats, have low levels of infection throughout the U.S.
  • Foxes, especially in the Southwest and eastern U.S. may be infected with rabies
  • Coyotes, are infected in rare cases
  • Unvaccinated dogs and cats can be infected with rabies. According to the CDC, dogs are responsible for 90% of human rabies exposures and 99% of human deaths from rabies worldwide.
Rodents and rabbits rarely get rabies--the woodchuck, Marmota monax, a rodent, is an exception. Other low risk animals include oppossums, armadillos, shrews, and prairie dogs. Livestock and horses can get rabies, and because of their close association with humans vaccination is recommended.