School Pest News Volume 11, Issue 3, June 2012

Typhus – By: Elizabeth “Wizzie” Brown, Extension Program Specialist

Travis County recently had a death due to typhus, last year typhus showed up in the Lower Valley area. Typhus is one of those “diseases” that has not been prevalent for many years, but like everything else it is making a comeback.

Typhus is a bacterial disease that can be spread by lice or fleas; fleas (rat fleas & cat fleas) are often the common vector. Typhus is caused by one of two types of bacteria- Rickettsia typhi or Rickettsia prowaze-kii. The type of typhus contracted depends upon the type of bacteria. R. typhi causes murine (also known as en-demic) typhus. It often occurs in the summer through fall and is rarely deadly. Risk factors include exposure to rat fleas, rat feces or exposure to various animals such as cats, rats, skunks, raccoons or opos-sums. Symptoms of murine typhus include abdominal pain, backache, diarrhea, head-ache, joint and muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, a high fever (105-106 F) and a dull red rash that begins on the torso and spreads.

R. prowazekii causes epidemic typhus. Lice and fleas of flying squirrels spread this bacterium. Symptoms of epidemic typhus include chills, cough, delirium, high fever (104 F), joint pain, light sensitivity, severe headache, severe muscle pain, and a rash that starts on the torso and spreads out.

People get murine typhus from of an infected flea. Most fleas defecate while feeding, so the bacteria can enter the body through the bite wound or by the area being scratched. You may also get murine typhus by inhaling fecal material infected with the bacteria.

Treatment of typhus generally involves antibiotics. Epidemic typhus may need intravenous fluids and oxygen as well. If someone suspects that they have typhus, they should see a physician as soon as possible.

Of course, to reduce the chance of having flea-carrying organisms around, encourage the following:

1. Do not leave pet food out overnight.

2. Make sure all garbage cans have tight fitting lids.

3. Keep fire wood and other items off the ground.

4. Keep yard maintained.

5. Inspect the outside of the home and seal any areas where rodents may enter (use stainless steel mesh screening or flashing).

6. Treat pets with a monthly flea treatment (see veterinarian for recommendations).

7. Treat any indoor & outdoor flea infestations promptly.

Gnats Driving You Crazy? By: Molly Keck, Extension Program Specialist

Examples of different types of small flies Bart Drees

With all the mositure we have had, you might be one of those folks Molly wrote about. Most people are dealing with are fruit flies and mistakingly calling them gnats. Fruit flies are smaller than house flies, and have red eyes. They appear tan in color and are no larger than an 1/8 of an inch long. In the photo of small flies above, the fruit fly is on the far right.

Fruit flies are attracted to ripened or decaying fruit and vegetables, but they are also known to breed in drains, dirty mops or rags, recycling bins, trash cans, soil, and other areas of moisture and decaying or fermenting food.

In order to manage fruit flies, you truly have to find the source. Once you have eliminated the source, its important to keep fruit and veggies either in the refrigerator or a brown bag for a couple weeks or you will attract them back into the home.

If you’re still seeing flies, check the drains. An easy trick is to put tape over half the drain overnight. If flies are stuck to it, you know they are breeding in the organic matter that lines the drains. There are drain cleaners that will eliminate that “gunk” using enzymes. Bleach, boiling water, and other products will only kill the larvae in the drain now; it does not keep the adults from laying more eggs.

If you have potted plants, they may breeding in the soil. Check by digging, or placing the plant in a small space overnight. Its easier to re-pot the plant, but at the minimum, don’t over water and allow the soil to dry out.

I’m noticing a correlation between the new green compost bins the city has provided us. Its wonderful that we are composting and reducing our trash, but we are also keeping our rotten food longer in the home, which is attracting and allowing fruit flies to breed. If this is your issue, remove the food regularly, if not immediately.

Again, finding the main source is the key. Recently, we had a MAJOR issue in our office. I’m a little embarrassed to admit, I was the cause! I had placed an apple in an insect cage and allowed it to rot and ferment. Removing those rotten apples almost immediately (within a weekend) got rid of the problem! It may not be as easy as that, but searching for “ground zero” will make your problem less of a problem.

For more information about fly treatments and sample management plans check out our website at

Putting out the Unwelcome Mat for borers By: Dr. Mike Merchant, Extension Urban Entomologist

Since early spring Dr. Charlie Helpert has tirelessly driven the country roads of north Texas, and knocking on doors in the area, in a effort to make Texas trees safer from insect attack. The enemy is the emerald ash borer, and the weapon is an early detection network of traps and volunteers trained to spot this foreign invader that threatens ash trees throughout the eastern U.S.

I wrote about this project last year and so far the news has been good. No ash borer yet in Texas. But the work goes on, and so Dr. Helpert continues to deploy and man his early warning system.

The project is part of a nationwide effort to monitor and control the spread of this borer with a selective appetite for trees in the genus Fraxinus. Ash trees are important hardwood and shade trees for this country, and in areas where the borer is active are putting the hurt on trees and tree owners alike. The goal of the project is to give states like Texas early warning and, in the process, a chance to slow the spread of the borer.

Last year Dr. Helpert was the only man standing between emerald ash borer and Texas forests. This year, in a strategic move, the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) decided to expand the trapping network in Texas. Approximately 1700 traps have been deployed throughout the state in a cooperative effort between Texas AgriLife Extension Service, Texas Forest Service and Sam Houston State University.

The city of Plano, TX recently interviewed Dr. Helpert for a video (see above) about his efforts to install the purple sticky traps in ten north Texas counties. He and Denise Moore with the City of Plano explains the effort and what tree owners can do to protect their trees from borers of all kinds.

Finally, if you happen to see this pest on your school property please drop Dr. Merchant an email at

Pest Private Eye Video Game Allows Kids to Become a Pest Detective

By: Jodi Schmitz, Project Assistant, IPM Institute of North America

Looking for something to keep the kids busy this summer? Want to teach them about pests, pesticides and IPM? Let them become the Pest Private Eye, a detective who helps schools solve their pest problems! The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension’s Pest Private Eye and the Case of IPM in Schools (Pest PI) is a free educational video game that teaches kids about pests and IPM.

As the Pest Private Eye avatar, kids explore the rooms of Eureka Elementary School, pick up IPM tools such as a vacuum cleaner, window screens and snap traps, and use them to manage various pests. “In some parts of the game, you need to apply critical thinking to find out how to deal with difficult pests,” says Erin Bauer, extension associate at the Pesticide Education Office for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL). “The cockroaches in the kitchen are one example. In real life, you may need to use both sticky traps and roach bait to manage them and it’s the same in the game.”

Bauer and Clyde Ogg, associate extension educator for pesticide safety education at UNL, have been working on Pest PI in some form since 2007. “We had a few beta versions and it just got better as we went along,” says Bauer. “The first version looked more like a cartoon but then we transitioned to a 3D look.” It mimics role-playing point-and-click games that are popular with kids today.

Bauer says the purpose of the game was to get the word out about IPM. “Hopefully, kids can walk away with one or two things that they can tell their friends or parents which helps bring IPM to an even broader audience.”

In addition to the game, there is also a comic book of Pest Private Eye’s adventures at Eureka Elementary School, as well as a teachers’ guide, Power Point and other IPM resources for child care facilities. Educators can use the game and associated materials in their classrooms, 4-H groups, libraries or other environments.

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