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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Not all presents under the Christmas tree are welcome

Don't be stumped by strange, long-legged bugs in customer
accounts this month.  Consider hitchhiking aphids or other
insects when a Christmas tree is in the house.
Photo by Mike Myers.
The last week in November and first three weeks in December are Christmas tree season in the U.S.  All over the country, excited families take to the nearest tree lot to pick a recently cut tree for home.  Some of these trees, however, come with more than just needles and flocking.

Giant conifer aphids in the genus Cinara, are among the most commonly encountered insects on fresh Christmas trees.  These aphids form colonies on trees outdoors.  Smaller colonies and lighter infestations are often missed by the tree farm, or by a bright-eyed family out on a U-cut adventure.

Conifer aphids are sometimes mistaken for ticks by horrified tree buyers.  But ticks have eight legs, and are not likely to be brought into a home on a tree.  Aphids are not harmful to people.  They feed only on plants and will not bite people.  Nor do they live long off a live tree, so your customer need not be concerned about them laying eggs on, or infesting, their ornaments.

Conifer aphids are more likely to be present on cut Christmas trees after a warm fall like this year. The warm weather encourages higher late season populations on trees.

Closeup of a Cinara aphid, one of the most common
Christmas tree pests.  Note the two short tubes (cornicles)
on the abdomen that help identify aphids. Photo by Tom
Murray, courtesy Bugguide.net
When introduced into a warm home after sitting in a cold tree lot, conifer aphids usually become active and many will move off the tree. Mike Myers, with Bizzy Bee Pest Control in Dallas, encountered a typical case today (inspiring this post). The insects had left the tree and were seen by his puzzled customer crawling over the fireplace, kitchen, and bathroom of a small apartment.

Insecticides are not necessary or desirable for control of conifer aphids or any other insects/mites on Christmas trees. If one of your customers brings home an infested tree and it has not been decorated, encourage them to take the tree outdoors, shake it well, and vacuum up as many of the bugs as possible.  Or better yet, return the tree to the lot for a replacement.  Be sure to inspect any new tree and pound the stump on the ground several times to check for live aphids before bringing it home.  

Take care not to mash conifer aphids on carpet or furnishings.  They will stain.

Other pests sometimes brought in on Christmas trees include other species of aphids or adelgids, spruce spider mites, and even praying mantid egg cases.  None of these are harmful, and either replacing the tree or vacuuming the offending bugs is usually sufficient.

And don't forget that firewood can be another source of insects, especially beetles, during the winter months.  A good preventive measure is to keep firewood outside until it is needed for a fire.

Luckily, none of these pests are especially common on live trees.  Nor should they discourage you or your customer from bringing a fresh cut tree indoors.  In my book the smell from a real Christmas tree more than makes up for the occasional arthropod hitchhiker.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Attic Safety

If you do pest control, few work sites can match the extremes of what you find in attics. Work in attics can be hot (or cold), difficult and dangerous if you’re not at the top of your game. Yet inspecting and servicing attics can be a critical aspect of pest control, especially for residential customers.  So in the spirit of keeping safe during the holidays, here are a few tips I've gathered for working in attics.
Having a stable work platform and maintaining three points of
contact when moving are essential for attic safety. (Photo by
JoistMate™) 

Scheduling. In Texas, heat may be the biggest safety challenge of all in attics. If possible, it's best to schedule any summer attic work for the morning. Afternoon attic temperatures in Texas in the summer can range from 120 to 180 degrees F– dangerously high. Most pest control inspections in attics will be relatively short, but if you have to spend any significant time in an attic, get an early start and make sure you have plenty of water and/or electrolyte drink handy.

Clothing. Proper clothing is needed to protect you from Fiberglas insulation, nails, hard objects and possibly bites and stings.  Long-sleeved shirt tucked into pants, safety glasses and bump hat are pretty important. Thick soled shoes or boots to protect against nails are highly recommended. And take it from someone with more than his fair share of bumped heads, if you don’t have a bump hat--any kind of cap or hat is better than none.

Safety Equipment.  Perhaps the most important attic safety gear is a respirator. A disposable NIOSH rated N-95 respirator (retains 95% of 0.3 micron-sized particles) is the minimal protection you need from short exposures to Fiberglas dust in attics. Cheap surgical masks are not sufficient here. If you suspect rodents are present, especially in rural homes where deer mice could be present, more sophisticated protection is needed. The CDC publishes recommendations for risk reduction when working in environments where hantavirus is a risk. For any PMP who removes deer mice from traps, or work closely with rodents, CDC recommends a half-face, tight-seal, respirator with N100 filter. If you have facial hair, like I do, or if you do not medically qualify to use a negative seal filter, you may need a (positive pressure) PAPR (powered air-purifying respirator), equipped with N-100 filters.  Expensive!

A fit-tested, half-face respirator with N-100 filters is the
minimum protection you should wear when working around
rodent droppings or other potential biohazards.
If you'll be handling dead animals in an attic, insulation or other vertebrate-pest contaminated materials, rubber, latex, vinyl or nitrile gloves are essential.  You will also need a sprayer or spray bottle to spray infested insulation or dead rodents with a 10% bleach solution, and two plastic bags to hold the dead animals.

Tools. Carry any loose tools you need in a tool bag that you can drag with you. Always set your tools aside in the tool bag rather than on a rafter and risk losing them among insulation. Bring a corded work light or backup flashlight with you. This will be important if you drop your primary flashlight, or if your primary light's battery fails.

A digital camera may be very useful for documenting what you find in the attic.

Getting Around. If you must travel from stable flooring onto joist beams, follow the rock climber's rule and maintain three points of contact at all times. Move only one foot or hand at a time, keeping your other feet and hands on a secure joist or rafter. Joistmate™ (see picture) is one commercially available platform designed to provide a stable platform for working on joists.

Take the advice of a PMP friend who fell through a ceiling many years ago, "never step blindly into insulation assuming a joist or floor decking will be there. If you cannot see the decking, beams or joists, DON’T STEP THERE. And don’t assume that all joists are on 16 inch centers. Twenty-four inches is more common in newer homes." He also advises everyone to be wary of beams or joists that might be damaged by termites or rot. They may not hold your weight.

It's a good idea to disturb insulation as little as possible to avoid stirring up dirt, dust, fibers and mold. Even when wearing a respirator, you'll want to minimize tracking contaminates down from the attic on clothing.  And if you see old vermiculite insulation, which if breathed can cause cancer, leave it alone.

Be Ready for Surprises. You are in the attic for pest control purposes, so be ready for pests! Keep a sharp eye open for signs of bee hives or wasp nests, or other pests like rats, bats, squirrels or raccoons. The possibility of being startled by encountering a scurrying pest is another good reason to have at least three good hand-holds or secure footing at all times. Always think about your escape route in case you encounter a wild animal.

Vaccines. In this business keeping up with your tetanus shots is a good idea, especially in a location where a sharp nail can appear where you least expect it.  If it's been more than 7 years, you need a booster shot.  And if you work in an area with bats, or where you commonly encounter wild (possibly rabid) animals like skunks or foxes, consider a rabies vaccine.  It is MUCH cheaper to get the rabies vaccine before you need it, than getting it after being exposed to the bite of a rabid or potentially rabid animal (personal experience here again, story for another post).

Ladders.  Falls from ladders are a leading cause of occupational death nationwide. If you use a ladder to access an attic, make sure it is firmly set up (75 degree angle is best) and rated for your weight. Don't descend a ladder face forward. Maintain that three point of contact rule and don't reach for items when ascending or descending. It's also a good idea to place plastic under the attic ladder, or be prepared to vacuum any insulation or debris that falls from the attic into the house.

Considering all the potential hazards working in attics, you might ask, "why bother?" Certainly anyone who manages urban wildlife, or does rodent control, knows that attic service is an essential part of their work.  But termite inspectors and PMPs doing general household pest control also have plenty of reasons to venture into attics or onto roofs. Let's promise ourselves that when we do, we'll put safety first.

If you have any memorable experiences, or safety tips for working in attics, I'd like to hear about them. We're in the process at A&M of putting together an attic servicing and safety curriculum as part of the new IPM Experience House. Your input could be an important addition to our training class. Contact me via the email link under my complete profile at right.


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Gleanings from ICE 2016

After an unintentional break in blogging due to a month of travel, I'm finally caught up enough to sit down with my notes and remember what it was all about.

If you can imagine thousands of entomologists swarming a convention center like fire ants on Cheetos, that's what it was like at the 25th International Congress of Entomology (ICE) held in Orlando, FL.  Held every three years, and rotating to a different nation every time, the ICE is the largest gathering of professional insect experts in the world--and this one may have been the biggest ever.  This year there were over 6,600 registrants from 102 countries, giving 5,396 presentations.

This was my first ICE, and it was overwhelming. It seemed like I spent half my week just sorting through the program to know which sessions and posters I should attend.  So probably like everyone who attends the ICE, I came away feeling like I had a unique, though very limited, perspective on the meeting.

One of the more enjoyable aspects of the Congress was meeting insect geeks from around the world. Some were bench scientists (who work in the laboratory), others worked in the field (including one enthusiastic fellow I met from Germany who brought his own dung on a field trip to trap Florida dung beetles--and it worked!).  There were first time visitors to the U.S., and many young and enthusiastic students. I met scientists from Finland, Vietnam, Australia, Kenya, and Iraq. But in the research sessions we were all just entomologists, despite different dress, language or customs.

So here are some highlights of my notes from the many hours of sitting in sessions and looking at PowerPoint slides:
  • German cockroach resistance to baits was the subject of a paper by NC State University researcher Jules Silverman. When comparing a susceptible German cockroach strain versus a field strain from Puerto Rico, his team found resistance to fipronil (15-20X), indoxacarb (15,000X) and even hydramethynon (350X). This was the first time hydramethylnon physiological resistance (as opposed to avoidance) has been found. Even with this resistance, in the lab they still saw complete control of cockroaches with gel baits.  But control was not as good in field trials where cockroaches had access to other foods.  My take home message was that we must be careful in our use of cockroach baits, and use them in combination with sanitation, sprays and other control tactics if we want to preserve them for coming years.
  • Paula Stigler Granados from the UT School of Public Health reported on the status of Chagas disease in the U.S.  Dr. Granados leads a task force studying the best way to protect human health from this important, disease transmitted by kissing bugs.  Doctors tend to downplay the risk of Chagas disease and rarely test for the disease.  Blood banks only test for Chagas if a person is a first time donor; hence some are concerned about the possibility of our U.S. blood supply becoming contaminated with the Chagas disease parasite. It's estimated that as many as 98-99% of cases in the U.S. remain undiagnosed.
          Educational awareness among doctors and patients will be a focus of the Texas Chagas task force, along with better screening, diagnosis and treatment.  Chagas is a chronic and ultimately fatal disease.  In previous years it was considered untreatable; but with a new drug therapy it now can be treated in earlier stages. Getting the drug to people who need it is still a challenge, however.
  • In related papers Dr. Gabe Hamer from Texas A&M reported on the results of a citizen science effort to study kissing bugs. From 2013 to 2015, they collected 2,812 bugs from 98 different Texas counties. The most common species detected was Triatoma gerstaeckeri, with 63% of those collected infected with the Chagas disease pathogen.  Another study by Rodion Gorchakov from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston showed that humans are the most common host for kissing bugs collected by citizen scientists in Texas with human blood found in 66% of bugs.  So why not more Chagas disease in Texas and other parts of the U.S.?  The current theory is that gerstaeckeri and our other native kissing bug species are not very good at transmitting the disease during biting--something to be thankful for.
  • A couple of the more interesting and fun talks I attended were on insects and Japanese art and culture.  Some of you may know Dr. Nan Yao Su, developer of the Sentricon system concept at the University of Florida.  Turns out he is interested in insect influences on Japanese culture.  
  • Gunter Miller, from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, spoke on the process of developing effective attractive toxic sugar baits (ATSBs) for mosquito control.  Based on the fact that both male and female mosquitoes feed on natural sugar sources (like nectar, honeydew), ATSBs must be competitive with these natural sources, so the process of developing these baits is more complicated than just mixing sugar with a pesticide and spraying it on plants.  Their lab developed a "mosquito sangria" mixture (includes beer and Sangria) that will remain attractive to mosquitoes for more than a month after spraying.  Their technology is being used in the Terminix All Clear Mosquito Bait Spray.  This approach to mosquito control has attracted a lot of attention because of its potential to control some Aedes mosquitoes (vectors of Zika, and the most common daytime biters), and because of its need for less insecticide that might be harmful to beneficial insects.  
  • Joel Coats from Iowa State University has been studying alternatives to PBO, the most commonly used synergist for pyrethrins and other pyrethroid insecticides.  He found that many of the plant extracts he tested synergized permethrin as well or better than PBO, and many worked faster than PBO.  Apparently PBO was developed early as a standard synergist for the industry, and few people have taken the time to look at alternatives over the past 50 years. Having an organic synergist could be a real market boost to pyrethrins sprays, most of which cannot be sold as organic because of the synthetic PBO needed to make it effective.
  • According to MacKenzie Kjeldgaard of Texas A&M University, who analyzed ant gut contents with sophisticated DNA techniques, the fire ant's top food source was crickets, but also included springtails, caterpillars, flies and spiders.  
  • Freder Medina introduced a new BASF termiticide injection system using Termidor H.E.  The new application system uses 4000 psi pressure to inject the insecticide into the ground, eliminating the need for drenching.  The system will come with a base unit and mobile app to communicate with BASF.  You should be hearing more about this in 2017.
  • Last, I had a pleasant surprise in the commercial exhibits when I discovered a new book just published by Stephen Doggett, University of Sydney, Australia.  Stephen is a well known bed bug researcher, but had the genius to put out a handy photographic guide to bed bug infestations for, well, just about anyone.  It has dozens of excellent photos, tells where and how to spot bed bugs and what to do if you find bed bugs in your home. This should be a useful resource to share with pest control customers, and as a training tool for employees.  Self published, and not widely available, but you can get it at BioQuip books for about $7.
Of course there was much much more information at ICE this year, some of which I may incorporate in future posts.  But it's Saturday and time to get on to other activities. I hope some of this has been interesting and helpful.