West Nile virus fears prompt diligence in schools. Common question: Can students use mosquito repellents at school?

With Dallas officials having declared a state of emergency in regards to West Nile virus, Texas AgriLife Extension Service personnel are being flooded with calls from area school integrated pest management coordinators seeking information to allay parents’ and teachers’ mosquito concerns once school starts.

Image taken by Janet Hurley

Areas like this corner of a building can have stagnant water build up. Watch areas like this, trash cans, and sports equipment around your campus.

“It’s a valid concern, but one that’s manageable,” said Janet Hurley, AgriLife Extension state school integrated pest management specialist headquartered in Dallas County. “State law mandates that public school districts in Texas, all 1,030 of them, must have a trained integrated pest management coordinator on staff.  They are trained to deal with situations such as the mosquito problems we are seeing in many parts of the state now.”
Hurley explained that integrated pest management uses a number of practices to control pests in the safest, most effective way possible that has the least amount of impact on the environment.

“AgriLife Extension is the lead agency among several agencies that can provide the training for IPM coordinators,” she said.  “And the Texas Department of Agriculture is the regulatory agency that is responsible for doing on-site inspections to ensure the mandate is being met and the school or school district is in compliance.”

“A big question has been whether mosquito repellents can be used by students in school,” she said.

According to Michael Kelly, Texas Department of Agriculture structural pest control service coordinator at Austin, “Given the need for parents of school children to have the option of protecting their student from the possibility of a vector-borne disease, parents may apply mosquito repellents to their children and mosquito repellents may be kept in the nurses office in the event that reapplication is necessary.

“It would be up to each school district to determine whether or not they want to allow the practice of keeping mosquito repellents, sent by parents for their children, in the nurse’s office,” he concluded.

Hurley said the announcement from the Texas Department of Agriculture is important, because the repellent issue had some school districts worrying about breaking school pesticide rules. She said Kelly’s comments should allay concerns in favor of protecting students when school starts.

Cecil Fueston is McKinney Independent School District’s Integrated Pest Management Coordinator and one of a number of area coordinators working with Hurley. He said good communication both within the district and within the community is the key component to a successful pest control program.

“It’s very important to develop a working relationship with city and county health officials especially now with the mosquito concerns,” he said.  “In my case, I know when and where the city traps mosquitoes, when they test the mosquitoes, where they fog, and what product they are using,” he said.

“It’s equally important to keep campus staff informed. I do this by feeding them information like fact sheets, FAQ sheets and by informing them on conditions to look for and report immediately so they can be corrected.

“As part of our IPM program, we inspect regularly for conditions that allow mosquitoes to breed. We visit each school every third day and emphasize eliminating standing water, water leaks, plumbing leaks and excessive shrubbery against and around buildings.

“We trim bushes back off of the buildings to reduce mosquito hiding places.  We focus ‘up and under.’  That means getting the bushes trimmed from the ground up and removing the dead stuff underneath. Multiple-inch layers of dead leaf material provide excellent harborage sites for mosquitoes and must be eliminated.”

Fueston also removes debris from rain gutters, so water will not collect, and adjusts downspouts for proper drainage.

He said one often overlooked area outdoors, especially now as football two-a-day practices are underway in many areas, are the contraptions and training equipment the teams use.

“Here for example, all football teams use old tractor or truck tires for strength training,” he said. “The tires lay out on the practice field the entire season. Water collects in these tires and must be removed. I drill four to six half to 3/4 inch holes in each tire, so they can’t hold water; problem solved.”

In keeping with proper integrated pest management practices, Fueston is cautious where pesticide use is concerned.

Under normal circumstances, pesticides are among the last resorts used to control a pest outbreak after more preventative measures have proven ineffective, according to Hurley.
For more school-related integrated pest management information or to download the CDC Fight the Bite flyers go to: http://schoolipm.tamu.edu/forms/public-health-pests-information-resource/

Writer: Steve Byrns, 325-653-4576, s-byrns@tamu.edu


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