Ticks, Lice and Fleas


Why is it often necessary to make multiple applications to eliminate a cat flea infestation?

The need for multiple applications has a lot to do with the flea’s biology and behavior. Fleas undergo complete metamorphosis, meaning they have four life stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. During both the egg and the pupal stage, fleas are protected from hazardous environmental conditions by naturally produced shelters: the shell in the egg stage, and the cocoon in the pupal stage. Unfortunately for pest professionals, the egg shell and the cocoon can also shelter developing fleas from pesticides. Therefore, a single application can reduce larval and adult populations, but will have little effect on eggs and pupae.

Another reason why a flea job may require multiple applications is because fleas can remain in the cocoon as pre-emerged adults for up to 20 weeks. They wait for cues such as vibrations or an increase in temperature to signal that a host has arrived. This behavior explains why vacationing homeowners with a small flea problem can leave for a few weeks, and be greeted by large numbers of hungry fleas when they return. This also explains why follow-up applications may be necessary to reduce adult populations.

Every year I hear about the dangers surrounding Lyme disease and ticks. This year I started hearing about Powassan virus. Is this a new tick-borne virus that I should be concerned about?

Over the past year, news sources across the country have regularly talked about ticks and the diseases they spread. That’s because this year’s warm winter coupled with a mild spring has led to a greater abundance of ticks. More ticks can mean a greater risk of tick bites, and therefore a higher likelihood of contracting tick-borne diseases like Lyme and Powassan virus.
Lyme disease is spread to humans through the bite of an infected black-legged tick. It has been one of the most talked about tick-borne diseases over the past few decades, and for good reason. Each year there are over 30,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease across the United States. While this disease can be dangerous, treatments are available that can provide 100 percent recovery if administered in the early stages of the illness.

The Powassan virus is also transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected black-legged tick. It is not a new disease, and is far less common than Lyme, with only 75 cases reported in the U.S. over the past 10 years. However, the health risks associated with Powassan virus can be far greater because there is no specific treatment, and people with severe infections often need to be hospitalized. The lack of treatment options makes this virus particularly dangerous, but it is far more geographically restricted than Lyme disease, with cases primarily in Minnesota, Wisconsin and New England.

I’m dealing with a damp basement in Ontario that is practically covered in tiny white bugs.  From the best I can tell they are not booklice, springtails, or any other pest I’ve encountered. I am planning to address the moisture problem and hope that will help because it’s become a real headache. 

Even without a significant pest problem it’s probably a good idea to take care of the moisture issue.  Based on your description I am inclined to think mites are probably the culprit.  There are several species of pest mites that could be responsible for these basement problems including cheese mites, grain mites, flour mites, and other closely related species.  They are probably feeding on microscopic mold that’s growing due to the excess humidity, though some of these species are more closely associated with infesting particular stored products (as evidenced by the common names mentioned above).  Going after the moisture is definitely a great start and could take care of the problem on its own.  Check out what products are labeled for this situation and consider making a treatment following, or in conjunction with, you efforts to control moisture.  You will probably be surprised by how quickly the population dissipates once their preferred environmental conditions are no longer present.

What’s the best protection for pest management professionals against ticks?

Pest management professionals spend a lot of time in areas where they might encounter ticks as they perform exterior inspections and perimeter treatments. One of the best pieces of advice is to know where to expect ticks. Ticks live in moist and humid environments, particularly in or near wooded or weedy natural areas. Ticks are typically not found in well kept, sunny lawn areas, but if you venture into wooded areas, and ecotone areas (weedy transitional areas where the woods and grass areas meet) you are in prime tick habitat. Since ticks can transmit a number of different pathogens, including the germ that causes Lyme disease, its important to remain vigilant.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) offers these tips, which are helpful for work or play:

  • Products containing permethrin kills ticks. Permethrin can be used to treat boots and clothing and can remain protective through several washings. Check the label and follow instructions carefully.
  • Use a repellent with DEET on skin. Repellents containing 20% or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can protect up to several hours. Remember, repellents are pesticides. Always follow product instructions.
  • Check your clothing for ticks and remove them. Placing clothes into a dryer on high heat for at least an hour effectively kills ticks.
  • According to the CDC, showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks and it is a good opportunity to do a tick check.
  • Check your body for ticks after being outdoors. Conduct a full body check upon return from potentially tick-infested areas. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Check these parts of your body for ticks:
    • Under the arms
    • In and around the ears
    • Inside belly button
    • Back of the knees
    • In and around the hair
    • Between the legs
    • Around the waist