Category Archives: Camps

The ABCs of Ticks on School and Childcare Grounds

“The more we hear people telling us their tick stories, the more we’re realizing that much of the information that a majority of people “know” about ticks is just wrong enough to leave them at risk.” – Dr. Thomas Mather, TickEncounter Resource Center

Tom Mathers, a personal tick education hero of mine, recently created #JustWrongEnough to cover those areas that people think they know, but puts them at risk. He used “ticks jump out of trees” and “ticks die in the winter” as examples. I have also heard many #JustWrongEnough tick beliefs that put people and kids at risk for tick-borne diseases.

I won’t comment on people who believe they are safe because they have never had a tick on them.

We won’t get into how much time a tick needs to be attached before transmitting disease-causing pathogens (I consider the 15 minutes needed from attachment to transmission of the Powassan virus to deem this argument moot anyway).

And don’t get me started on the correct way to remove a tick. I covered this in my 2016 blog post, It’s tick season. Put away the matches., and have found no evidence to convince me that pointy tweezers are not the superior method.

Let us focus, then, on #JustWrongEnough beliefs that are important to school and childcare grounds.

#JustWrongEnough 1: All ticks carry Lyme disease.

The risk: Individuals, and their doctors, might not know what diseases they might have been exposed to and lead to a misdiagnosis.

Species matter! Different ticks carry different disease-causing pathogens.

Tick-borne disease is very common in the Northeast. In addition to Lyme disease, ticks in the northeast transmit the pathogens that cause Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis, Powassan Virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia and a bacteria related to the agent of Lyme disease called Borrelia miyamotoi. But different ticks carry different disease pathogens.

In addition, not all life stages are equal. Most disease pathogens are ingested by the tick when they feed on an infected host. Adults are usually twice as likely to be carrying pathogens than a nymph because they have fed twice compared to the nymph’s single feeding. But we also know that Borrelia miyamotoi can be transmitted from an infected female to her eggs, so larval blacklegged ticks cannot be discounted as disease vectors.

School nurses can play a crucial role in tick education. This was covered in our guest blog, The Role of School Nurses in Integrated Pest Management for Public Health.

#JustWrongEnough 2: Ticks are found in tall grass.

The risk: Individuals will only think about tick prevention and conducting a tick check when visiting areas with tall grass.

Different tick species prefer different habitats, but that does not mean that you won’t find them in other areas as well.

We can find ticks in tall grass, but we are less likely to find blacklegged ticks. And species matter! The three New York ticks that pose the highest risk to us are the blacklegged tick, American dog tick, and lone star tick. These three ticks prefer different habitat types.

Blacklegged ticks prefer shady, moist areas. Dehydration is their greatest enemy, and so you are most likely to encounter them in the woods. But that doesn’t mean you won’t find them in a lawn or athletic field, especially in areas that receive significant shade. Ground covers, like pachysandra, found right next to buildings, can also provide suitable habitat for these ticks.

On your school grounds, students will likely have little risk of tick exposure in the middle of the playing field, but it’s a different story when they chase a ball into the wood edge.

How can you determine if there are tick risky locations on your school or child care grounds? You can use a simple drag cloth to monitor for ticks, covered in the blog, Ticks: Assessing the risk at schools and child care centers. This is also covered in our infographic, Monitor for Ticks in Your School Yard.

If you find locations with tick activity, you can take steps to restrict students from those areas by placing orange cones or signage. When access can’t be restricted, students and parents should be made aware of how to protect themselves from ticks.

#JustWrongEnough 3: Ticks are a summer problem.

The risk: Individuals will only think about tick prevention and conducting a tick check during hot weather.

American dog ticks and lone star ticks don’t mind the hot weather and can be a summer problem. But just as different species of ticks prefer different habitats, they also have different seasons when they are most active.

For the blacklegged tick, which is responsible for most of the tick-borne diseases in NY, the nymphs are most active in the spring and the adults most active in the fall. It is true that larvae hatch in the summer, and now that we know that they can transmit Borrelia miyamotoi we need to protect ourselves against them as well, but the greatest risk for disease transmission are in the spring and fall.

The different life stages of blacklegged ticks are most active in different seasons, but ticks that did not find a host will continue looking when the weather is favorable.

#JustWrongEnough 4: I can’t prevent ticks from getting on me.

The risk: Individuals are so afraid of ticks that they avoid spending time outside.

Here’s a gratuitous picture from a recent hike to highlight what you could be missing if you let a fear of ticks keep you inside.

We often find we are walking a fine line between frightening people and encouraging them to take precautions. Our underlying message is you can go outside. There are proven methods that can be used to protect ourselves from tick bites and the pathogens that may be transmitted while the tick is feeding.

Dressing the part, using repellents correctly, conducting daily tick checks, and knowing how to properly remove a tick can help you return from your next outing tick free. Details on these steps can be found on our How Do I Protect Myself From Ticks? page of our Don’t Get Ticked NY website.

So let them play outside during recess. Take your students outdoors. And schedule that field trip.

What questions do you have about ticks on school and child care grounds? You can reach me via email at jkz6 @ cornell.edu.

 

Slime Mold – Pest or Not?

“A word is worth a thousand pictures, if it is the right word. Risk is the right word.” – Michael Hoff, PhD

When a problem presents itself, the first step should often be to determine whether it really is a problem. In other words, does it create a risk? At times, something may look scary, but may actually be eating other insects that are pests (house centipedes are a great example of this). Slime mold, a fungus-like organism, showing up in a school playground recently brought up the question of risk and how to react to it.

No one wants to walk out of their building and see this. Photo: Doug Beckers flickr

From the Plant Disease Diagnostic Clinic fact sheet:  “Slime molds are frequently observed when they form large colonies on mulch around trees or shrubs. They may initially appear as a slimy mound or mass, come in a variety of colors, and are often unsightly.”

Unsightly indeed. It is often called dog vomit mold.

So a school was very concerned when it started popping up throughout the playground mulch. They began making phone calls which led to us. We were able to reassure them that slime mold feeds only on bacteria in the mulch and there are no known health risks associated with them.

Slime mold crusts over after it finishes with its mobile stage. Still unattractive.

Human health risk usually reaches the highest tier of concern for risk assessment. Given the low risk, the school could just wait it out until the weather changes. Slime mold thrives under hot and humid conditions. Cool, dry weather would take care of the issue. It’s a good reminder that many pests (or, in this case, non-pests) are weather related and checking the forecast can help us determine how long the issue might last.

A change in the weather is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves. – Marcel Proust

It’s worth noting that there are no pesticides registered in New York to manage slime mold on mulch. Any use of a pesticide would not only be illegal, but would also cause its own unnecessary risk.

There is another concern that falls lower down on the list, but is still important – perception of risk. In this case, there was a concern about how parents of young children would react to the unsightly mounds. To address this concern, we recommended shoveling out the visible slime mold and hosing down the area to disperse residual materials. And reminded them that as long as the weather remained hot and humid, slime mold would continue to pop up, so keep the shovel at hand.

A unrealistic perception of risk can also be addressed through education. So we found this nifty video about these fascinating organisms and how they move. Check out this Deep Look video from PBS. Talk about a teachable moment!

Have a question on managing pests in your school or childcare facility? Visit our Schools and Daycare Centers webpage.

Bed bugs in schools aren’t going away

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” –Henry Ford

Bed bugs in schools are an issue that is not going to disappear. We have many resources available to help people deal with the issue, but, as is often the case, these resources are not looked for until there is a crisis.

Finding a bed bug in any situation can be distressing, but should not be a cause for panic.

This became clear, once again, as a distraught school official called to ensure that the pesticide application they were planning was legal. When asked if the pesticide applicator had found an infestation, the answer was “We know there isn’t one”. The strategy had been to spot treat when a bed bus is found. But the problem has escalated. Parents are pulling their kids from school. The union is involved. Finger pointing is rampant. The pesticide application was planned to show that SOMETHING is being done.

But we know that it isn’t going to help. Eliminate every bed bug in a building and the very next day a student or staff member can bring in another hitchhiker from an infested home.

So what is the solution?

Bed bugs are, simply, a community problem. It is nearly impossible to determine who is at fault and laying blame is pointless. The old saying states that it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to deal with a bed bug problem.

First, know that it is nearly impossible to prevent bed bugs from entering any public facility. They will hitchhike on personal items from infested homes. These introductions are common in schools, office buildings, movie theaters, retail stores, libraries, taxis, buses, trains, diners,…

Bed bug infestations are rare in schools, but introductions from infested homes, usually on personal items that travel from home to school and back again, are quite common.

Second, infestations do not happen unless bed bugs have the opportunity to feed. They hate disturbance, prefer darkness when feeding, and need a body to be still, usually for two hours or more – not conditions typically found in schools.

Third, especially in apartment units, a family might be doing their best to control bedbugs, but a neighbor’s untreated apartment can lead to constant reinfestations. And there are multiple reasons for residents to not report bed bug infestations within their apartments, including:

  • Bed bugs might not have been noticed. Not everybody reacts to bites.
  • Residents are ashamed or embarrassed. Despite the fact that anyone can get bed bugs, there is the false stigma that bed bugs are associated with poverty and unsanitary conditions.
  • There is a risk of being charged for treatment or being evicted, even when the landlord is responsible.
  • Treatment is expensive and the resident might not have the resources to hire a pest management professional.

A national organization called eXtension has developed an IPM Action Plan for Bed Bugs that addresses the responsibilities of the school community and parents (and, in extreme cases, local government). Both lists include education. The NYS IPM Program can help with educational resources (below) and workshop opportunities.

The Action Plan goes on to discuss procedures that should be followed if a suspected bed bug is found and what to do if children repeatedly come in with bed bugs. It even provides recommendations for further intervention when children continue to come in with bed bugs despite interventions. A small sample of listed procedures include:

  • If a confirmed bed bug was found on a child then the school nurse should inform the child’s parents. [A letter and] inspection report should be sent home with the student. (See Bed Bugs: What Schools Need to Know fact sheet for a good sample letter). Educational materials should accompany the letter.
  • In most instances students should not be excluded from school due to bed bugs. Schools should not be closed due to the discovery of bed bugs unless there is a widespread infestation [which is rare].
  • In an infested home, parents should store their child’s freshly laundered clothing in sealed plastic bags until they are put on in the morning. This prevents bed bugs from hiding in the clothing and being carried to school.
  • Backpacks, lunchboxes and other items that travel back and forth to school can also be inspected daily and stored in sealed plastic containers at home to prevent bed bugs from getting into them. [Backpacks can also be treated in a hot dryer.]
  • At school a “hot box” might be used to heat treat belongings possibly infested. A hot box is an insulated container with a heating element that raises the temperature above 115 degrees, killing bedbugs. They can be purchased for a few hundred dollars. Dryers that contains shelves will also serve the same purpose.

Action plans can then be formatted as a flowchart, making decision making simple to understand and follow. The Michigan Bed Bug Working Group put together the Bed Bugs: What Schools Need to Know fact sheet with a sample flowchart.

This flowchart is part of Bed Bugs: What Schools Need to Know. The fact sheet also includes a sample parent letter.

We recommend that every school develop a bed bug policy based on the recommendations within the IPM Action Plan for Bed Bugs and use NYS IPM Program resources to help educate the school community and beyond regarding bed bugs and how to deal with them.


NYS IPM Bed Bug Resources

And be sure to check out a potential grant opportunity to help the school community purchase the airtight containers and heating units needed to help prevent bed bug transportation. The Walmart Foundation Community Grant Program offers grants ranging from a minimum of $250 to the maximum grant of $5,000. We do not know if they have ever funded this type of project, but let us know if you are successful!

Pests and pupils don’t mix

Year in and out, outreach to schools has our community IPM staff going back to school. Literally. We work with maintenance staff, nurses, groundskeepers, teachers, and parents. We provide the insight and know-how it takes to keep kids safe from pests and pesticides both. But schools are tricky to manage because—well, think of them as a village. You’ve got your cafeterias, laboratories, auditoriums, theaters, classrooms, athletic fields, playgrounds. Add in vacation and after-hours use for public meetings, community sports teams, summer schools and camps. Plus, New York’s laws restrict when, where and how pesticides can be used at school.

Which means you’ve got work. Because chances are, you’ve got pests.

Worried about ticks? By rights you should be. The hazards can hardly be overstated. We help teachers, school nurses, and entire communities learn how to stay tick-free regardless the season—and warn them that old-time remedies could increase the likelihood of disease.

Next up—unsafe playing fields. Is there goose poo on athletic fields and playgrounds? It’s not just unsanitary—it makes for slick footing and falls. And take it from us: weedy, compacted soil is a “slick footing and falls” risk too. How to manage turf, pesticide-free? We teach repetitive overseeding as a thoughtful alternative to repetitive herbicides. We’ll get to that in another post.

And then you’ve got your ants, bed bugs, cockroaches, drain flies, drugstore beetles, fleas, grubs, lice, mice, mosquitoes, pigeons, rats, termites and wasps. Did we say we get calls? Each year we field several hundred. Then, of course, there’s the workshops we lead, the conferences we speak at, the media interviews we give. Work, yes, but also deeply rewarding.

 

Sandbox or Litterbox – You Decide

Raccoons defecate in communal sites, called latrines. Raccoon feces usually are dark and tubular and have a pungent odor. – from Raccoon Latrines: Identification and Clean-up

Raccoons are pretty cute, but you really don’t want them pooping on the property. Photo: Nell McIntosh

When I was younger, raccoons were my favorite animal. It was hard to resist their clever little hands and cute bandit masks. My stuffed raccoon was named Rickie. Even when I was old enough to learn about rabies, my love didn’t wane. But then, when taking a wildlife rehabilitation workshop, I learned about Baylisascaris procyonis (raccoon roundworm), which is passed in raccoon feces. They recommended using a blowtorch to kill the eggs of this intestinal parasite which can enter the human eye and nervous system. The cuddly raccoon lost its place in my heart.

My love/hate relationship with raccoons came to mind when I saw the CDC has released a fact sheet on raccoon latrines and Baylisascaris procyonis. In it, they state “Young children or developmentally disabled persons are at highest risk for infection as they may be more likely to put contaminated fingers, soil, or objects into their mouths”, but fail to point out that sandboxes can serve as a raccoon latrine.  (They do state it as a possibility here.) Of course, cats, which carry their own suite of parasites, are more likely to use sandboxes as their own personal litter box, so it is good IPM to prevent all types of animals from accessing your sandy play areas.

The easiest way to keep sandboxes from becoming litter boxes is to not have any sandboxes at all.

The idea is good, but the implementation is lacking. Without securing it, animals can easily slip under the tarp. Photo: Joellen Lampman

Bu, if you believe, like so many, that there are sensory and group play opportunities with sandboxes (just Google “sand play activities”), then there are steps you can take to prevent animals from gaining access.

  • Keep sanitation a priority to avoid attracting wildlife – ensure that trash is cleaned up and put in a sealed container at the end of each day. (This will also help with other pests such as rats and yellow jackets.)
  • Have a “no food in the sandbox” rule – there is no need to provide an enticement for local animals to check out the box.
  • Pest proof your buildings (including outbuildings) to reduce den sites.
  • Have a solid box bottom  – not only will this help prevent sand loss, but will prevent animals from burrowing in from underneath.
  • Have a durable cover on your box and make sure it is only uncovered during playtime.

    Sandbox with cover rolled back. Photo: Gil Garcia

    Tarp ties on the sandbox hold the tarp securely in place. Photo: Gil Garcia

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you find a latrine, check out the CDC fact sheet that includes information on cleaning it up while protecting your health. (Spoiler alert: they also recommend using a propane torch as chemicals will not kill the eggs.)

Just a note that raccoon latrines can be found in other areas, including (yikes!) inside buildings. Be sure to pest proof your buildings to prevent raccoons (and squirrels and bats and birds) from making your building their new den. To keep wildlife out of your buildings and discourage them from your grounds, visit the NYS IPM Program web page: What’s Bugging You: Wayward Wanderers.