School starts in about a week. Kids are out enjoying their last few days of freedom, and parents are getting ready for another year of asking, “Have you done your homework?!”
We have been getting a regular supply of rain. The summer heat results in high humidity and air so thick that I almost reach out and part the water to walk through it. It is miserable weather for working outside, but ideal for growing things — especially those bloodsucking pests like mosquitoes, sand gnats, fleas, ticks, chiggers (red bugs here) deer flies, bedbugs and, with school starting, head lice.
So, a quick review of the players and prevention options available may reduce your chances of donating blood outside your species.
The most serious pest from this group always is the mosquito. You can contract Lyme disease from ticks, but mosquitoes transmit the diseases that fill mass graves. Savannah suffered two yellow-fever epidemics early in its history; one killed 11 percent of the population, and the other killed 9 percent.
The Colonial Cemetery in Savannah’s Historic District has a marker over the mass grave into which the victims from one of the epidemics were interred. The tunnel under Drayton Street from the old hospital into Forsyth Park stored the corpses during the day so they could be removed through the park at night so as not to alarm the citizenry.
There is a good reason Chatham County Mosquito Control is one of the best mosquito-control operations in the world. Knowing you live in South Jawjah, where wetlands are a major part of the landscape, makes venturing outside without wearing mosquito repellant a foolhardy risk. It is amazing how many people call to report mosquito problems and then admit that they were not wearing any repellant.
As UGA Professor Kim Coder’s grandmother would say, “Stupidity is its own reward.”
If you step outside and don’t feel a breeze, it would be smart to apply, or at least carry with you, a repellent containing DEET. Other options are oil of lemon eucalyptus or picaridin. Do not use either of these alternative repellants on children under 3 years old.
Ticks are an issue when walking through the woods or around shrubbery. They climb onto trees and shrubs and wait for something warm to brush past them. Long-sleeved shirts should be buttoned up at the neck and cuffs, and pants should be tucked into boots. A permethrin spray at the top of footwear where the pants are tucked in is a good choice; however, permethrin should be sprayed only on clothing, never on skin. I like to spray the beltline as well.
These same repellants on clothes also will keep red bugs and fleas from feeding on you. Deer flies require a skin-applied repellant in addition to clothing-applied repellants.
High-powered protection like DEET and permethrin are indicated where the consequences of contracting disease warrant. When the pest is more nuisance than health threat, I would rather use a repellant that is low risk to me.
Generally, the idea is to not use a bigger flyswatter than needed. Sand gnats are one of those pests. If it is comfortable for you to be outside, it is perfect weather for sand gnats, too. I prefer Skin-so-Soft as my repellant of choice. It is safe for the whole household.
With the exception of fleas in the home landscape, I recommend repellants over whole-yard area treatments. Fogging to kill everything in the backyard before a party will control the biting insects and make for an unmolested evening. However, non-target beneficial insects cannot help but be affected as well. On a small scale, this may never be a problem, but if yard fogging becomes a regular, frequent practice across neighborhoods, we could force resistance to develop in more serious pests. It generally is not a good idea to let control of nuisance pest-control tactics undermine control tools for life-safety threats like malaria, yellow fever and eastern equine encephalitis.
Fleas are a life-safety threat. Bubonic plague — need I say more? There are about 2,000 cases of bubonic plague annually around the world, mostly in underdeveloped countries. Right now, a city of 50,000 people in China is under quarantine due to a bubonic-plague death.
Our immigration enforcement helped keep dangerous diseases out of the United States and gave us the luxury of arguing over things like whether child vaccinations are good things. Now the breakdown in immigration enforcement leaves us open for diseases even our grandparents only vaguely can remember to cross the border and re-assert themselves on North America.
If you have pets that move between indoors and outside, a flea-control strategy has to include your yard, barrier spray at the foundation and entrances, and indoor-control tactics. Just treating just the yard or the inside of the house will not fix the problem.
With the start of school, head lice might become an issue. Personal headgear, scarves, coats and bed linens should be washed in hot water and dried on the hot cycle for at least 20 minutes. “Vacuuming lounging areas to pick up hairs and lice is helpful. However, head lice cannot live off a human host for more than 24 hours” (Georgia Pest Management Handbook 2014 Homeowner Edition).
Finally, the bedbug sometimes can become a problem. Thorough and detailed inspection and cleaning is required, usually by a pest-control professional. Two good websites for bedbug information are from the University of Minnesota (bedbugs.umn.edu) and The Ohio State University (centralohiobedbugs.org). I highly recommend perusing these sites to educate yourself before deciding how to tackle a bedbug problem.
Even though we tend to think of ourselves as the top of the food chain, there are insects and arachnids out there for which we are dinner.
Gardner lives in Keller and is the UGA extension agent for Glynn County, serving South Bryan.