SUBJECT: TRAVEL PESTS
Why do we need tips for a pest-free vacation?
Pest-transmitted diseases are on the rise. West Nile Virus is a great case in point – case numbers are doubling year to year. However, this is by far just a microcosm of the big picture. The truth is travelers are much more at risk of encountering pests than locals. Locals have the experience with the native pests, are used to avoiding them and have had the help of pest management professionals to control them in and around their homes.
Won’t we see the same pests that we see around our homes?
Absolutely not. There are billions of different species of pests throughout the world and they vary by region. Ants are a great example – with over 12,000 species, chances are the ones at your home will not be the ones waiting for you on vacation!
What should vacationers do to protect themselves from these pests?
Knowledge is the best protection for vacationers. Locals have the benefit of help from pest management professionals. Vacationers can arm themselves with knowledge of what pests to look for, how to avoid them and what to do if they have a close encounter.
Where can people go for more information on travel destinations and pest health threats?
The National Pest Management Association has developed an interactive map on their website, www.pestworld.org, that vacationers can visit before leaving home. By clicking on each region, travelers can access a list of the native pests, tips to avoid them and what to do if you get a little too close for comfort.
What are regional pest health threats that people should be aware of when traveling this summer?
It really depends on what region you’ll be visiting. In the Northeast, vacationers should be aware of deer ticks that spread Lyme disease. In the South and Southwest, vacationers should keep their eyes peeled for fire ants. The West is expecting a particularly bad season of mosquitoes and West Nile Virus.
What are some other pest problems vacationers might encounter this summer when traveling?
There are a few other pests that travelers may recognize from home but still should be watchful of during a vacation. Mosquitoes and bedbugs are great examples of pests that live almost everywhere in the country but can be particularly dangerous during vacation. Awareness and vigilance will play a role in avoiding these pests.
What pests should I be prepared to see in the Northeast?
Although there are several species of pests that travelers should be aware of before traveling to the Northeast, one of the most prevalent and dangerous is the tick. Black legged, also sometimes called deer ticks living in the Northeast can transmit Lyme disease.
To avoid ticks and tick-transmitted diseases when in potential tick-prone areas:
– Avoid vegetation, especially long grass; this will go a long way to preventing tick bites. Many species of ticks attach themselves to humans and animals as they pass through long grasses.
– Wear long pants and socks of a light color, with the pants legs tucked into white socks.
– Normally, ticks will not immediately attach themselves; frequently inspect your clothing, body, and head/hair
What pests should I be prepared to see in the Southeast?
Locals living in the Southeast have long been aware of the danger of fire ants. Fire ants look remarkably like other species of ants but are usually a distinct color of red. Unlike many other species, fire ants are ferocious stingers. Stinging insects, including the fire ant, send over half a million people to the emergency room each year; they are important pests to avoid!
Fire ants are known for the large mounds of dirt they create above their underground colonies. If these mounds are disturbed, fire ants will race to the top and sting whatever is disturbing their nest. To avoid fire ants –avoid these mounds.
What pests should I be prepared to see in the Southwest?
Scorpions are a great example of a pest to avoid while traveling through the Southwest. With large stingers on the ends of their tails, these pests can deliver a nasty shock to an unsuspecting tourist.
Keep in mind that scorpions may hide in clothing, hats, shoes or any other items left on the ground, especially overnight. When these are put on, the scorpion stings in defense. Travelers should carefully inspect anything they are about to put on if it has spent the night in a location where a scorpion could have crawled into it.
What pests should I be prepared to see in the West?
Western states are home to a dangerous spider that many vacationers have probably heard of but perhaps can’t identify.
Luckily, it is easily identified by its black body and the red hourglass shaped mark on its abdomen.
What pests should I be prepared to see in the Mid-West?
Brown recluse spiders live throughout the Mid-West and are typically unknown or misidentified by people not from the region. These spiders can deliver a nasty bite that could go undetected for days until a reaction begins at the site of the bite.
To avoid these spiders, steer clear of any spider that has a violin-shaped marking over its body.
Are there any other pests that travelers should look out for?
There are lots of pests that travelers should avoid but is difficult to generalize because they are all destination-specific. Anyone planning a trip can visit www.pestworld.org and find out what pests reside at their vacation destination. The site also offers helpful tips for avoiding the pests and advice on what to do if you come into contact with any of them.
PEST-SPECIFIC BACKGROUND INFORMATION
In North America, blacklegged (also called deer ticks) can cause Lyme Disease, a threatening illness that affects the central nervous system. Although the symptoms of the disease are fairly inconsistent, generally the first indication of the disease is the onset of flu-like symptoms and a “bulls-eye” rash, named for its appearance as an expanding ring. Severe cases of Lyme disease can last for long periods of time and can include symptoms such as dizziness, fatigue, severe joint pain, facial paralysis and a weakened heart.
To avoid ticks and tick-transmitted disease when in potential tick-prone areas:
- Avoid vegetation, especially long grass; this will go a long way to preventing tick bites. Many species of ticks attach themselves to humans and animals as they pass through long grasses.
- Wear long pants and socks of a light color, with the pants legs tucked into your socks.
- Normally, ticks will not immediately attach themselves; frequently inspect your clothing, body, and head/hair
Previously thought by most Americans to be merely a nuisance, these pests have been at the center of a recent rapidly spreading public health threat – West Nile Virus. Although currently the most famous, West Nile Virus is just one of many illnesses spread by mosquitoes.
Mosquitoes are most likely to be found around and breed in stagnant water. Travelers that are planning to spend time in marshy areas, around standing ponds, or other areas close to unmoving water should come prepared to battle with these pests.
The best defense against mosquitoes is an active offense:
- Travelers should avoid going outdoors when and where mosquitoes are typically most active. Some mosquitoes are active during the day and others are active at night depending on the area.
- Insect repellent should be applied on clothing near exposed skin whenever and wherever mosquitoes are most likely to bite.
- The most effective repellents currently available contain the active ingredient, N, N-diethylbenzamide (DEET), in concentrations up to about 35% (greater concentrations don’t offer better protection).
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long-legged pants, preferably treated with a repellent as well.
Best known as the catchy ending of a bedtime rhyme, bed bugs have recently made a comeback in American homes, apartment complexes, residence halls, hospitals, hotels, college dorms, mass transit and cruise ships. Although they are not disease-spreading pests, bed bugs feed on human blood and can leave itchy, red welts on human skin.
Bed bug infestations are not a sign of unsanitary or unclean living areas and are just as likely to be found in a five-star hotel as a two-star hotel. Travelers that come into contact with bed bugs away from their homes should be just as concerned about bringing them home as they are about their itchy bites. Renowned hitchhikers, bed bugs will catch rides in luggage, shoes, pants hems and any other mobile material and travel back to infest your home.
To avoid bed bugs while traveling:
- At hotels, pull down the bed covers at night. If you see something moving, or if you see spots on the sheets, let management know immediately and then ask to be moved to another room.
- After traveling, inspect your suitcases before bringing them into the house.
Mice can transmit Hantavirus, which can cause Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, a potentially deadly disease. The vast majority of cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome occur west of the Mississippi River.
These viruses are transmitted to humans through the inhalation of “aerosolized” dust or droplets (delete) containing rodent feces or urine infected with the virus. The rodent excretes the virus with its waste materials and as the surfaces dry, the virus remains in the dust on the surface. Once it becomes airborne, it is possible to inhale the pathogens. Humans can also become infected if they come into direct contact with infected rodents.
Although it is difficult to take specific steps to avoid Hantavirus, travelers should be wary of unsanitary conditions. Clean areas are much less likely to contain the pathogens. Do not remove mice or their droppings on your own. A professional will use proper techniques to avoid allowing particulates to get into the air.
Scorpions can be found throughout the Southwestern United States. With large stingers on the end of their tails, these pests can deliver a nasty shock to an unsuspecting tourist. With over 50 species of scorpions in the United States, only one is thought to pose a significant health risk to humans – the sculptured bark scorpion.
Scorpions are nocturnal pests that tend to hide in the daytime; this is the main reason so many people get stung.
- Scorpions may hide in clothing, hats, shoes or any other items left on the ground. When these are put on, the scorpion stings in defense.
- Travelers should carefully inspect anything they are about to put on if it has spent the night in a location where a scorpion could have crawled into it.
If a scorpion stings you, apply ice to the sting site immediately to reduce swelling. These stings, unless from the sculptured bark scorpion, are about as dangerous as a bee sting.
Brown Recluse Spider
The Brown Recluse is one of the most dangerous spiders in the United States. Commonly found in states throughout the southwest and Midwest the Brown Recluse will occasionally hitchhike a ride into other states.
The brown recluse spider is a member of a group of spiders commonly known as the “fiddle-back” spiders due to the violin-shaped marking over its body. Another identifying characteristic is the number of eyes – most spiders have four pairs of eyes while the brown recluse has three pairs arranged in a semicircle.
A Brown Recluse bite can go undetected for hours or days until a reaction at the site of the bite begins to develop. Others that have been bitten describe a pinprick feeling followed by severe burning and pain. Other symptoms include fever, chills, nausea, weakness, swelling and the formation of a lesion at the site of the bite. The healing process can take more than eight weeks.
There are a half dozen different species of fire ants in the Southern United States, some of which are native and others imported. Although all can sting and hurt humans, the red imported fire ant is the most threatening.
Fire ants are known for the large mounds of dirt they create above their underground colonies. These mounds can even be found in garages or in crawlspaces. If these mounds are disturbed, fire ants will race to the top and surround and sting whatever is disturbing their nest. To avoid fire ants – avoid these mounds.
Fire ants are sensitive for vibration or movement. They race up a person’s leg and when one ant stings, that person jerks or moves. This movement triggers the other ants to sting in response. Fire ant venom causes small blisters to form within a day of being stung. These little pustules usually cover the skin of the person who was stung and can easily become infected.
If a fire ant stings you, take the following steps:
- It is recommended that the blisters not be broken.
- Wash the area carefully with soap and water.
- Apply cold compresses to reduce swelling
- Elevate the affected area
- If necessary, go to a physician.
Black Widow Spider
While the Black Widow Spider has a reputation of being Black widow spider venom affects a human’s neurological system causing severe pain, nausea, vomiting, chills, sweats and muscle cramps.
The Black Widow is easily identified by its black body and the red hourglass shaped mark on its abdomen.
Africanized Honey Bees
Introduced into the United States in the early 1990s, these bees look like traditional honey bees but exhibit much more aggressive behavior.
Also known as “killer bees,” when they sting many more bees participate so the recipient receives many more stings – sometimes creating a life-threatening situation. Once disturbed, these bees will pursue their target for a long distance.
If you are stung:
- Quickly remove yourself from the area and seek shelter in a car or building.
- Once safely away from the bees, remove the stingers from your skin as quickly as possible to reduce the amount of venom they inject.
- Immediately seek medical assistance if you exhibit any signs of breathing difficulty