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The Role of School Nurses in Integrated Pest Management for Public Health

By Meredith Swett Walker. Originally published on Entomology Today, by the Entomological Society of America, November 2017. Republished with permission.

tick cubes and spoon

Tick specimens embedded in Lucite can help school nurses distinguish disease carrying ticks like Ixodes scapularis from other species. Nurses are also provided with a tick removal tool with a web address directing them to online IPM resources for schools. (Photo credit: Kathy Murray, Ph.D.)

School nurses do more than just apply bandages to scraped knees and administer asthma inhalers. They are also health educators, they help control communicable diseases, and they even do some pest management.

Meredith Swett Walker

In the past, the dreaded head louse (Pediculus humanus capitis) was likely the only pest a school nurse needed to worry about. But, with the rise of arthropod-borne diseases like Lyme disease, West Nile, and Zika, nurses increasingly find themselves thinking about tick and mosquito control as well. Bed bugs, meanwhile, are also cause for concern, and as head lice evolve resistance to traditional insecticidal treatments, even these pests require more sophisticated control methods. But school nurses typically haven’t received training in pest ecology or integrated pest management (IPM.)

At Entomology 2017 in Denver, Kathy Murray, Ph.D., of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry presented her work with the Northeast School Integrated Pest Management Working Group to engage school nurses in IPM for public health pests in schools. This project aims to give school nurses the tools, resources, and training that they need to promote and support IPM policies in schools. The work was endorsed by the National School Nurse Association and supported by the Northeastern IPM Center.

In the last 15 years, many states have started requiring schools to practice IPM. This may seem odd, but a school campus is essentially a large public property, and any property, be it a building or open space, has pests. Usually, IPM efforts in schools focus on facility managers or custodians. But school nurses deal directly with the effects of these pests on students and can be an important addition to the IPM team.

In many public schools, resources are spread thin. Facility managers may not always have the budget for the labor or materials necessary for effective IPM. But when facility managers and nurses come together to ask administrators or school boards for more resources for IPM, their requests have more heft, says Murray.

New England Nurse Conf 2017 table

The Northeast School Integrated Pest Management Working Group has presented its project to engage nurses in IPM at nursing conferences. (Photo credit: Kathy Murray, Ph.D.)

In the Northeast, ticks are a major concern, particularly Ixodes scapularis (also known as the blacklegged tick or the deer tick), which transmits Lyme disease. Students may come in with ticks they picked up at home or can even pick up ticks on the school grounds. The project supplies school nurses with a tick removal tool, as well as actual ticks embedded in Lucite to aid in distinguishing disease-carrying species from non-vectors. When nurses learn more about tick ecology, they can help identify potential tick habitat on campus and work with facility managers to get it removed.

Mosquito bites themselves are not a major concern for school nurses, but arboviruses like Zika or West Nile are. When nurses know more about the behavior and ecology of mosquitoes, they can help identify mosquito breeding sites on campus, such as small pockets of standing water, and work with facility managers to address them. Where arboviruses are a serious concern, nurses may advocate for outdoor sporting events to be scheduled to avoid peak mosquito activity periods like dusk.

Murray found one health-pest relationship that many nurses were unaware of: the connection between cockroaches, mice, and asthma. The fecal material and urine of these pests are potent asthma triggers. Unfortunately, schools are a prime habitat for mice and roaches. There is food present in the cafeteria and often the classroom. In addition, school buildings are typically unoccupied at night, when mice and roaches are most active. Some research has even shown higher levels of pest-related allergens in school buildings than in the average student’s home. If nurses are concerned about asthma attacks at school, managing pests may help.

In her presentation at the Entomological Society of America’s 2017 annual meeting, Murray made the case that school nurses are often at the front lines of pest-related public health challenges. They can also be essential bridges to the wider community. When confronted with a pest problem, “nurses would like to have some solid, research-based, concise information—in multiple languages” that they can share with students’ families. The IPM project is working to provide that. While some school nurses may have never envisioned IPM as part of their job description, Murray says she has found the school nurses she works with to be interested in IPM and “very passionate about protecting student’s health.”

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Meredith Swett Walker is a former avian endocrinologist who now studies the development and behavior of two juvenile humans in the high desert of western Colorado. When she is not handling her research subjects, she writes about science and nature. You can read her work on her blogs Pica Hudsonia and The Citizen Biologist or follow her on Twitter at @mswettwalker.

Reporting Pesticide Regulations Nationwide

Cover of American Entom summer 2014

The most recent issue of American Entomologist (Volume 60, Number 2) contains an interesting article authored by 11 top professionals concerned with the safety of  pest management practices. One of the authors is our own Lynn Braband who leads  the NYS Integrated Pest Management Program’s SCHOOL IPM group.

The article, Regulating Pesticide Use in United States Schools, is worth a read for its non-political, practical insight into what is going on nationally in schools.

The first law to regulate pesticide use in schools was passed in 1991 in Texas. Since that time, 39 states have enacted legislation and policies to regulate the use of pesticides including changes to how pesticides are applied, record-keeping, pesticide-free zones, pre-notification and posting when pesticides are applied, limitations on active ingredients that can be utilized, and enforcement or penalties for violations.

Capture GRAPH for article Summer 2014 Am. Entomologist

Numbers of states with legislation in key components of pesticide-use safety in 1998 and 2008, as well as the number of states without such legislated compliance.

Why is this important? School pests are not only annoying but they can also affect children’s health. The number one cause of student  medical absences in schools is asthma brought on by allergic reactions to exposure to cockroaches, rodents and dust mites. Simply increasing pesticide use  is not the answer, because exposure to pesticides is also linked to increased incidence of asthma.

As a parent, pesticide applicator, school safety officer, teacher or staff, or concerned citizen, it is wise to understand the larger picture of pesticide use in schools across the nation as we all work to improve pest management in your school district.

Through interviews with state officials, the article’s authors assessed the effectiveness of regulations, compared them, and inquired after officials’ wish-lists as to how to improve them.

There is no federal law addressing pesticides or Integrated Pest Management in schools, so state provisions vary widely. For example, eleven states restrict or require notification of pesticide applications to reduce drift. Nine states have buffer zones, but they vary from 300 feet to two-and-a-half miles. Quite a difference.  Does your state have these restrictions? You should know, or find out.

The New York State Neighbor Notification Law (2000) applies to all public and non-public K-12 schools (not universities) and requires all parents and staff to be notified in writing at the start of each school year that pesticides may be used periodically, and that the school is required to notify them 48 hrs in advance IF REQUESTED.  Those who request notification are placed on a registry and, unless there is an emergency application, receive notification.  In the future we will devote a blog post to the concept of ’emergency applications’,  just one small part of the larger discussion. Another post will address the incidental changes in attitudes this law created.

http://ae.oxfordjournals.org/content/60/2/105 is a link to the Journal and gives you the option to download the full article as pdf.

A lot of work went into this article and should serve as a basis to improve pesticide safety on school grounds. We appreciate their efforts and this important article.