Bug of the month: fleas

I receive many calls from people telling me they had a simple pest problem, called an exterminator, and the next thing they knew, they and their family and pets were ill from pesticide exposure. Sometimes they develop temporary flu like symptoms. Others are not so fortunate, experiencing more serious problems.

Pesticides have been linked to asthma, childhood leukemia, attention deficit disorder, learning disabilities and neurological disorders. There is no such thing as a safe pesticide, even if used as directed. Indeed, there is a federal law prohibiting pesticide manufacturing companies from making such claims. For virtually every pest problem there is a safe, nontoxic solution. Usually it involves focusing on sanitation, prevention, vacuuming, baiting and trapping. This month, we focus on the flea.

Fleas are amazing survivors. The Egyptians used to smear a slave with the milk of asses and make him stand in the middle of a room as a human flea trap. In the 17th century, women wore decorative flea traps in their bodices.

Today, chemical flea remedies are more problematic than the fleas themselves. Fogging with pesticides is very harmful to people and pets. And in the long run, is ineffective. For pets, products that contain growth regulators are available, but some pets cannot tolerate them. The best action is to comb your pet with a flea comb. A dab of petroleum jelly will immobilize the fleas. Bathe the pet with a mild shampoo or lemon scented dishwashing liquid. And vacuum, vacuum and vacuum to get rid of flea larvae. Seal the vacuum bag and dispose of it before fleas can escape.

Cedar filled bedding for pets makes a good flea repellent. In fact, the ancient Greeks and Romans used cedar on the backs of parchment manuscripts to prevent insects from eating them. For more information, call 216-291-3424 or email bzucker@BeyondPesticidesOhio.org  or visit www.beyondpesticidesohio.org.

Barry Zucker is executive director of Beyond Pesticides Ohio, which promotes the safer and cost-effective pest control practices of Integrated Pest Management (IPM). 

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Volume 2, Issue 7, Posted 4:17 PM, 02.06.2009