Category Archives: Camps

Back to School – Humans Only!

A picture of a school with a banner that says "School is Open Humans Only" with a bedbug, cockroach, tick looking at the sign. The tick is holding a mouse pull toy and the cockroach is holding a coronavirus shaped balloon.Schools across the world are having conversations about safely sending teachers, students, and the rest of the school staff back for face-to-face education during a global pandemic. These are vitally important discussions and plans need to adapt to new information. And this focus on school health and safety also provides an ideal, if unanticipated, backdrop for our rescheduled annual conference – School IPM 2020: Where We’ve Been and What’s Next.

Covid-19 is an excellent example of a community issue that cannot be handled by school personnel alone. We have all been called to support the health of the community through social distancing, wearing masks, and handwashing. Our conference will focus on community-wide pest issues such as German cockroaches and bedbugs. There is simply no way for schools to prevent these insects from being reintroduced by students, school staff, and delivery trucks. How then, as a community, can we address these issues before they breach the school walls? And avoid the subsequent calls by some to close the building for pesticide applications?

photo of flat, wide, reddish bug on a finger tip

The penultimate hitchhiker, bed bugs need to be dealt with at a community level.

Please join us on the mornings of August 11 and 18 as we hear from community and agency leaders – and you! – about efforts to provide healthy learning and work environments. We welcome your experiences and ideas as we use this momentum to address school pest issues now and into the future.

For the full agenda, registration, and pesticide recertification credit information, please visit https://nysipm.cornell.edu/resources/nys-ipm-conferences/school-ipm-2020-where-weve-been-and-whats-next/.

 

Managing Wild Parsnip

“As everyone knows, when fighting a zombie, you grab a shovel and aim for its head. The same with wild parsnip, except you aim for its feet.” – Paul Hetzler

picture of yellow umbrella-like flower on a large green stalk

The bright yellow flowers of wild parsnip can be noticeable from a distance. The sap in this widely spreading invasive plant can cause severe burns.

There is no lack of invasive species in New York – but some do raise more of a concern than others. One such is the wild parsnip. Commonly spotted along roadsides with its bright yellow flowers, it can cause a problem on low maintenance areas on school grounds.

According to the New York Invasive Species Information Clearinghouse, wild parsnip produces furanocoumarin, “a compound in its leaves, stems, flowers, and fruits, that causes intense, localized burning, rash, severe blistering, and discoloration on contact with the skin on sunny days”. Avoid the sap and avoid the chemical burns.

In order to avoid those burns, the NYS DEC recommends:

  • Do not touch any parts of the plant with bare skin.
  • Wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, pants, boots and eye protection if working near wild parsnip to prevent skin contact with the sap. Synthetic, water-resistant materials are recommended.
  • If contact with sap occurs, wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water, and keep it covered for at least 48 hours to prevent a reaction.
  • If a reaction occurs, keep the affected area out of sunlight to prevent further burning or discoloration, and see a physician.
yellow flowers with some seed formation

Wild parsnip going to seed. The seeds become browner as they get ready to drop.

Digging out the root, cutting the root an inch or two below the soil, mowing, and herbicides can all be effective in managing wild parsnip. It is unlikely, however, that an emergency exemption for herbicide use would be approved before seed drop. Mechanical methods will have more long-term benefits.

And wild parsnip is going to seed, so make sure you don’t ensure a new crop next year by spreading seeds around! Before conducting any management, carefully cut the seed heads off with clippers and put them in a plastic bag. The bag can then be left in the sun to rot the seeds before disposal. And don’t forget to wear protective clothing to prevent any sap from reaching exposed skin or eyes.

If you want to learn more about wild parsnip and its management, our favorite guest blogger Paul Hetzler covered it well and humorously in his blog, Vengeful Veggies.

For more pictures of wild parsnip, visit the Turfgrass and Landscape Weed ID website. For information on other  invasive species, visit the New York State IPM Program’s Invasive Species page.

And, just in case we didn’t quite get the message across – wear protective clothing and eye wear to prevent sap from causing severe burns.

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.

Don't Get Ticked New York logo  Large drawing of the dorsal view of a female blacklegged tick. Below it, smaller drawings of the larva, nymph, and male blacklegged tick.  Large drawing of the dorsal view of a female lone star tick. Below it, smaller drawings of the larva, nymph, and male lone star tick.  Large drawing of the dorsal view of a female American dog tick. Below it, smaller drawings of the larva, nymph, and male American dog tick.  Brackets showing which group of diseases are carried by which ticks. The blacklegged tick carries Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, powassan virus, Borrelia miyamotoi, and ehrlichiosis. The lone star tick carries ehrlichiosis, southern tick associated rash illness, tick bite-induced allergy, canine ehrlichiosis, tularemia, and rocky mountain spotted fever. The American dog tick carries tularemia, and rocky mountain spotted fever, and tick paralysis.  Powassan virus and Borrelia miyamotoi have the potential to be transmitted by the larval stage.  Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness (STARI); As per the CDC, the cause of STARI remains unknown.  Tick Bite‐Induced Allergy (alpha‐gal allergy) is non‐pathogenic.  Lone star ticks may carry a less virulent form of rocky mountain spotted fever.  Tick paralysis is non‐pathogenic, and mostly associated with adult female American dog ticks.  dontgettickedny.org  nysipm.cornell.edu

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!