New York State IPM Program

September 8, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Skip the Shampoo and Get Rid of Head Lice Just the Same

Skip the Shampoo and Get Rid of Head Lice Just the Same

This post courtesy of Chris Gonzales, Northeastern IPM Center.

Kids go back to school this season, and this could mean an encounter with head lice. I made a mistake by not consulting an expert before treating my kid for head lice in late August. Don’t repeat my mistake!

I bought the pesticide shampoo because I thought that’s what you were supposed to do. I was wrong. Since then I asked an expert.

According to Consumer Reports, pesticide shampoo for head lice is a $130 million dollar over-the-counter market, and the shampoo likely doesn’t work. Most head lice are resistant to the active ingredient nowadays. Unfortunately, Google search results prominently display advertisements from pesticide sellers, not the free web pages from academic types who say to comb them out.

This fine-tooth comb picks those nits for you.

This fine-tooth comb picks those nits for you.

I contacted Matt Frye, a scientist who specializes in insects at the New York State Integrated Pest Management Program.

“Don’t panic,” he said. “Head lice are not a sign of poor sanitation. Lice are communicable like a common cold. Pesticides are not needed. Instead, comb!”

You can usually find a fine-toothed metal comb for lice on the shelves at drugstores. It’s all you need. The fine teeth are so close together they capture the nits (eggs), nymphs (babies), and lice (adults).

“It is important to be vigilant with combing,” said Frye. “Parents should be aware that they will need to comb thoroughly and systematically at least daily. If this sounds too difficult, seek out the services available where someone will comb your child’s hair.”

For school officials and parents, there’s no need to treat classrooms or homes. Head lice don’t survive long off the body. And there’s no need to pull kids out of school if head lice are found during the day (they’ve already had head lice for a while at that point.)

There was probably little harm in having treated my nine-year-old-boy’s head with pesticide last month. But why take the risk? Mostly it was wasted money and didn’t solve the problem.

I hadn’t had to deal with lice before. I should have searched the website of experts like the New York State IPM Program and the Northeastern IPM Center before heading off to the drugstore!

March 10, 2015
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Rats, Fleas, the Media … Part II

Rats, Fleas, the Media … Part II

When Cornell’s NYS IPM story — based on IPM entomologist Matt Frye’s research — hit the news a week ago, it made quite a splash. Back then, nearly 20 media outlets told the story: how Frye found over 6,500 lice, mites, and fleas on 113 rats live-trapped in New York City.

And — that among them were over 500 Oriental rat fleas, fleas capable of carrying the infamous bubonic plague. No, none of those 500 fleas harbored the plague. Still — “If these rats carry fleas that could transmit the plague to people,” says Frye, “then the pathogen itself is the only piece missing from the transmission cycle.”

Below, an updated list of the outlets that ran the news. Now the BBC — the British Broadcasting Corporation — also has plans to tell the story. And here, a one-minute video that shows how city rats make a living.

CBS News Cornell Chronicle
Daily Mail (UK) The Dodo
ESA (Entomological Soc. America) Fox News
Gothamist  The Independent (UK)
International Business Times  Jezebel
 Medical Daily  Metro New York
 NBC News  Newsweek
 New York Daily News  Popular Science
 RT (Reuters/Krishnendu Halder)  Science World Report
 University of Delaware  US News and World Report
 The Verge  Wired
 WPIX NY | PIX11  Yahoo Health

 

March 6, 2015
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on Rats, Fleas, IPM: How the Media Told It

Rats, Fleas, IPM: How the Media Told It

Since Cornell’s NYSIPM story — based on IPM entomologist Matt Frye’s research — went live earlier this week, here’s which media outlets told the story, and how.

CBS News Cornell Chronicle
Daily Mail (UK) The Dodo
 ESA  Fox News
 International Business Times  Medical Daily
 NBC News  Newsweek
 New York Daily News  Popular Science
 Science World Report  University of Delaware
 US News and World Report  The Verge
 Wired  Yahoo Health

One of our all-time favorite rat pics: Norway rat drops down a grate in the Big Apple, looking for — well, maybe an apple.

One of our all-time favorite rat pics: Norway rat drops down a grate in the Big Apple, looking for — well, maybe an apple.

March 3, 2015
by Mary M. Woodsen
Comments Off on News Flash! IPM Research — Rats, Fleas, and the Plague

News Flash! IPM Research — Rats, Fleas, and the Plague

Norway rats are your consummate “where you go, we go also” species, being as well adapted to urban living as we are. Meaning that the diseases we’ve blamed on them are most likely grounded in reality.

Yet widespread instances of the most spectacular of those diseases — the Black Plague that devastated much of the Old World long ago — have virtually disappeared. Is it because this dread disease’s vector, the Oriental rat flea, also disappeared? No. Rats aren’t the only animals that harbor these fleas. In North America the plague lives on in the unlikeliest of places — in the American Southwest among ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and the rat fleas they harbor, infecting roughly 10 people each year.

A Norway rat drops down a grate in New York City, looking for food or shelter. A flea that finds food and shelter on such rats is capable of transmitting the plague pathogen.

A Norway rat drops down a grate in New York City, looking for food or shelter. A flea that finds food and shelter on such a rat is capable of transmitting the plague pathogen.

But what about our cities? If New York City could serve as a model organism, so to speak, then new research published this week from a Cornell and Columbia University collaboration means we’d best keep tabs on city rats and the tiny critters that call them home. NYS IPM’s urban entomologist Matthew Frye and his colleagues in New York live-trapped 133 Norway rats. Using a fine-tooth rat comb, Frye found about 6,000 parasites, including lice, mites — and more than 500 rat fleas.

The good news first: none of the fleas carried the plague. But they did carry other nasty diseases.

It’s unlikely the plague has gotten a toehold in New York. Even so, Frye is alarmed. “If these rats carry fleas that could transmit the plague to people,” says Frye, “then the pathogen itself is the only piece missing from the transmission cycle.”

What to do to help keep it that way? Since avoiding fleas is just as tricky as avoiding rats, core IPM practices are key. They include prevention (caulking and installing snug-fitting door sweeps, for instance) and careful sanitation (cleaning or removing every possible food and water source — indoors and out — be it spilled dog chow and soda pop, or leaky pipes and discarded deli containers).

Once you’ve gotten the rats out — then what? After all, those fleas and the diseases they vector are a troupe of “where you go, we go also” species on the micro level. “It’s not that the parasites that get left behind can infest our bodies,” Frye says. “But they can feed on us while seeking other rats to infest.”

Frye’s research was part of an earlier project looking at the pathogens that rats themselves — not just their fleas — could carry. That study noted a disturbing number of viral and bacterial diseases rats fall prey to — including a handful that could spell grave consequences for us.

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