As summer turns to fall and the back-to-school season arrives, there are still plenty of pesky insects around to bug your family. Bed bugs, mosquitoes and ticks can pose serious health threats whether kids are outdoors, in dorm rooms or in your home. Here’s a primer on identifying early autumn insects and keeping them out of your school-year activities.
As kids of all ages head back to school, be on the lookout for bed bugs that may be along for the ride. Bed bugs are great hitchhikers and can travel easily from place to place in luggage, personal belongings and on clothing. Once inside a dormitory or home, they can spread from one room to another on furniture, via pipes, and even through such housekeeping devices as vacuum cleaners.
Bed bugs are flat, tiny insects with an oval body shape. They’re light tan to brown in color until after they bite, when they turn a reddish color. Adult bed bugs are about 3/16 of an inch long—about the size of an apple seed—while baby bed bugs are about the size of a pin head. During the day they disappear in mattresses and sheets, behind baseboards and picture frames, and tuck into furniture. Bed bugs leave telltale dark brown or red spots on surfaces, and large infestations can create a musty, sweet odor much like soda pop syrup.
Once bed bugs take up residence in your living or learning space, you’ll need professional pest management to remove them. Bed bugs are insidious as well as tough, withstanding extreme temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit and living for over a year without eating. So at the first signs of bed bugs, call a licensed pro to stop their bites and their spread.
Mosquito season typically stretches through August, when weather is still warm in most areas. And the farther south you are, the longer that warm weather and the mosquito activity will last.
Mosquitoes will still be hanging around as you enjoy fall outings and those last few barbecues, so don’t underestimate their ability to annoy as well as spread disease. Some species can transmit viruses like West Nile and those that cause encephalitis, or swelling of the brain. About 200 of the more than 3,000 mosquito species are buzzing around North America this season, and students spending a semester abroad should know there are other species that can transmit malaria, yellow fever and dengue fever.
All mosquitoes need is a nutrient-rich water source—as little as two or three inches deep—to breed and survive. Their lifecycles may be as brief as 10 to 16 days, but mosquitoes’ rapid reproduction means health threats continue as long as they have a home. Keep them away from yours by emptying any standing water in birdbaths, flower pots and gutters, and thin out vegetation near exterior walls. Also make sure door and window screens are in good repair and fit tightly, and upgrade outdoor light fixtures with the yellow bulbs that are less attractive to wandering mosquitoes.
Throughout the warmer weeks of fall, you should also keep EPA-approved insect repellent on hand and apply it to exposed skin. Long sleeves, pants and socks offer extra protection, as does clothing treated with materials that repel and control mosquitoes. Prime mosquito biting hours fall between dusk and dawn, so make sure you’re prepared during early morning walks and after-school activities.
Ticks also pose health threats, especially because they often go unnoticed or get misidentified. Most ticks are actually ectoparasites of warm-blooded animals, and closely related to mites, spiders and scorpions. They thrive in grassy, brush-filled areas where animals and people tend to stroll, and will catch a ride with any passerby.
Ticks can be very small, varying from 1/8 to 5/8 of an inch long, and are usually a shade of brown that can be hard to see on skin or misidentified as a mole. Though a tick feeds only once in each of its three life stages, its bite can transmit Lyme disease, Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, relapsing fever and tularemia. According to the Centers for Disease Control, roughly 20,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported annually in the U.S., damaging health along the way.
Through the fall, it’s important to protect yourself and your kids against ticks and the diseases they carry. When you’re out and about in tick-attracting landscapes, wear long sleeves and long pants, tuck pants cuffs into boots or socks when possible, and wear light colors so hitchhiking ticks are easy to spot. Once you’re home, check every family member carefully for clinging ticks before bites happen. If you see a tick already feeding or spot a tick bite, contact your doctor immediately.
Don’t take pesky insects back to school
If you’d like to learn more about how to prevent uninvited insect guests, visit Orkin.com. You’ll find a range of useful information to help identify and eliminate insect issues, including a pest library where you can look up any insect you’ve spotted in or near your home. You can also locate a local Orkin pest control pro to help eliminate those insects, and may arrange for a free pest control estimate.