Pest Management: Not for Amateurs. (Science & Technology)

By Mannes, Cindy | USA TODAY, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Pest Management: Not for Amateurs. (Science & Technology)


Mannes, Cindy, USA TODAY


HOMEOWNERS who try to save a few bucks by using the do-it-yourself approach to controlling the pests in their residences sometimes risk their wallets as well as their health. The average homeowner's lack of experience and training can inhibit his or her ability to distinguish a pest infestation in which an over-the-counter or do-it-yourself product treatment will suffice from a case where it is time to call a professional. Or worse, a homeowner may buy an appropriate over-the-counter product, but use it improperly.

Take, for example, the Memphis, Tenn., resident whose mobile home was infested with wasps. She set off several "bug bombs" (total-release aerosol containers) and not only killed the wasps, but blew up her mobile home in the process.

Professional pest management helps to ensure public health and safety by controlling creatures that can cause disease. Common household pests such as ticks and mice can transmit a host of potentially serious human illnesses. Yet, most homeowners aren't aware of the connection between pests and their health.

As an analogy, there are some illnesses, such as the common cold, where the do-it-yourself approach may be the most-efficient choice. You can buy cough syrup or aspirin over the counter and sometimes treat yourself fairly successfully. However, conditions such as the flu or pneumonia, or other sicknesses that can have long-term or permanent effects on your health, require professional care. You wouldn't take a chance with these illnesses, but would seek out experts for treatment.

Similarly, some pest problems may be handled with over-the-counter products, such as the occasional fly in the house. There are other situations, though, that require a professional. A pest management professional can determine if the creatures are harmful or benign and where they came from, and then work to control and prevent additional infestations. This approach is generally more thorough and effective than what the average homeowner can do.

Do you need to call a professional for the occasional pest in your home? Probably not. The answer depends on your tolerance for living with pests. Knowing that they can transmit a number of diseases and since most pest control companies will provide free inspections, you may prefer to err on the side of caution. In fact, pest management in conjunction with sanitation and vaccinations has helped change the world by essentially eradicating devastating disease around the globe, from polio to the bubonic plague.

West Nile virus and Lyme disease are two of the better-known examples of illnesses that pests transmit. The consequences of these diseases can range from merely annoying to fatal. The following are a few lesser-known, but equally serious, conditions that proper pest management could help to prevent or treat:

Asthma. Cockroach and mice allergens can aggravate asthma, according to studies by Johns Hopkins University and other leading research institutions. Asthma afflicts more than 24,000,000 people in the U.S. alone. If left untreated, a single pair of cockroaches can produce up to 2,000,000 offspring in one year. Female mice can produce up to 10 litters a year.

Human ehrlichiosis. A 19-year-old Missouri woman died in May, 2002, of an illness called human ehrlichiosis one week after being admitted to the hospital following a tick bite. Human ehrlichiosis is one of five diseases transmitted to humans by ticks, including Lyme disease.

According to a survey by the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), a trade association that represents the pest management industry, just 34% of Americans would call a professional for ticks, fleas, or mice. However, the survey, entitled "What's Bugging America," found that 50% would run to a pest management professional if cockroaches, bats, or rats were present in the home, and 87% would do so for a termite problem.

Still, homeowners frequently opt for the do-it-yourself approach before consulting a professional. …

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