September 8, 2008

Safeguard Your Environment to Avoid Getting Bugged

What you should know

Many "bugs" in and around your house are harmless. In some countries, people even eat bugs. However, insects can take over your pantry, kitchen, your bathroom, or beds. Many bugs are so tiny you cannot see them. Some are seasonal while others are problems throughout the entire year. Many bugs can be harmful.

Common bugs in and around your house can include dust mites, roaches, fleas, ticks, lice, ants, weevils, moths, beetles, spiders and stinging insects. Many pests can be controlled without excessive use of harmful pesticides.

Dust mites can be an indoor problem all year long. Their droppings can trigger allergic reactions in many people. These tiny bugs live in bedding, carpets, air-conditioning filters, and in furniture fabric. Regular cleaning is important to keep dust mites under control. Removing places for them to breed is also important.

Dust mites and cockroaches can trigger asthma attacks. Emergency room visits for asthma attacks are common in the Mid-South. When people with asthma breathe in dust mites and other irritants, their immune systems produce histamine. This chemical causes tightness in the chest and inflammation.

Head lice are sometimes found on small children, especially girls with long hair. These tiny wingless insects can lay hundreds of eggs (nits) close to the scalp. Lice suck blood and can cause itching and scalp irritation.

Spiders eat insects. If you eliminate what the spiders eat, you can often reduce the number of spiders at home.

Some spiders in the Mid-South can be dangerous. The brown recluse spider toxin causes tissue around the bite to die and rot. The brown recluse has long legs and a brown fiddle shape on its back. They hide in dark places like cardboard boxes in closets, or dry dark places like attics or sheds. They also hide in old shoes, dressers, and behind pictures. Black widow spiders also like dark places or places in which to hide, like wood stored for a fireplace.

The common housefly can carry a lot of germs. Like cockroaches, flies can carry disease-causing bacteria onto surfaces like toothbrushes, sponges, food or kitchen counters when they move from one place to another.

Ticks and fleas can be irritating but also harmful. Ticks can carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

What you should do

Eliminate causes of allergic reactions. If dust mites and other allergens are a concern, remove things that give them a home. Remove carpets and upholstered furniture. Wash bed linens regularly in hot water. Vacuum frequently with a HEPA filter, which traps fine particles such as dust mite feces that trigger allergy and asthma symptoms. Remove stuffed toys and decorative pillows from beds and couches.

Cover your mattresses with a cover that will prevent dust mites from making a home in your bed.

Stop feeding bugs. Clean up well before you go to bed or leave the kitchen. Clean up food and drinks on counters, the floor, sink, by the bedside or couch. Seal up pantry foods tightly. Use glass jars with lids, airtight plastic containers, and your refrigerator to store food. Use trash-can plastic liners with no holes. Take out garbage regularly to prevent cockroaches from breeding inside your house. Keep tight lids on trash cans. Set up household rules that prevent family members from eating and drinking in bedrooms, dens and places where there is carpet. Vacuum, vacuum, vacuum!

Ask children to avoid sharing combs, brushes, hats and other items that can transfer lice from another child. If your child has lice, check the rest of the family and tell your child's school. Use a special shampoo recommended by a doctor to kill lice and use a very fine-toothed comb through wet hair to remove nits.

Use caution, wear gloves and turn on lights when reaching into dark places. Reduce clutter and extra boxes that are hiding places for spiders. Get help from a professional exterminator if you find brown recluse and black widow spiders. Get medical attention for spider bites.

If you see a housefly, swat it immediately. Check for holes in window screens and don't leave doors open.

Check with your veterinarian on how to keep your pets free of fleas and ticks. Insect bombs might also help to get rid of fleas and other pests living in your rugs and furniture.

If you have pets or have been around wooded areas, check yourself or have someone else check you for ticks so you can remove them before they bite. Use a clean pair of tweezers to pull the tick off with its mouthparts intact.

Trap insects with sticky cards in your pantry and closets. When you see some on the trap, it means you have more in the house that need to be killed. Caulk gaps in windows and walls to stop bugs from entering your house. Seal openings under sinks. Keep your screens repaired. Check if your doors close tightly by seeing if they let in any light around the edges. Clean up potted plants before bringing them inside the house. Some people use exterior pesticides around the exterior walls of their home to prevent insects from entering the home. Always follow pesticide directions.

If bugs cause a reaction in a small child, check with a medical professional before treating a child under 2 or a child who seems to have an allergy, asthma or eczema.

For more information

Go to for more information about health issues tied to bugs in and around the home.

Family Health .Take Charge! is provided by the Healthy Memphis Common Table: This article supports the care and advice of your doctor. Talk to your care provider about any health condition or before starting new treatments.


Family Health Take Charge


(Chart) People allergic to cockroaches are more likely to have problems in high-rise apartments (For complete chart, see microfilm)

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