July 3, 2008

Court Back to Pleas, Not Fleas

By Shawna Morrison [email protected] 381-1665

It's taken three weeks, three treatments and the removal of a hidden animal carcass, but the fleas are almost gone from the Pulaski County Courthouse.

Employees there began complaining in early June that the tiny critters were all over the place, Assistant County Administrator Robert Hiss said.

"They just called it the way it was," he said. "They said, 'We have fleas.' "

The pests were biting employees and visitors, he said, to the point that they were disrupting work.

"For a while it was a serious nuisance," Hiss said.

The problem was mostly confined to the first floor, which holds offices, including court clerks' offices, and the general district courtroom. The county had an exterminator flea-bomb that floor twice.

But even after those treatments, Hiss said, "we had not seen a great reduction. They were still coming back."

The county decided to thoroughly search the building to try to find the source of the infestation. During the search, a maintenance worker noticed a strong, foul odor coming from underneath the first floor, Hiss said.

The worker climbed into a crawl space between the first floor and the basement. There he found the source of the problem: a dead opossum covered in fleas.

"It wasn't a very positive experience for him," Hiss said.

But at least they had found the problem.

After the opossum was removed about a week and a half after the problem started, the entire building was flea-bombed and an exterminator dusted a chemical substance in the crawl space and in other problem areas around the courthouse.

The problem has greatly diminished since then, Hiss said.

"Even though I haven't heard many complaints," he said, "we're seriously considering doing at least one more treatment, just to be on the safe side."

That treatment might be done this weekend, he said. County officials will talk with the exterminator first to see what is recommended to make sure the fleas are gone for good.

A cost estimate of the flea control wasn't available Tuesday.

Although it's rare, fleas can transmit disease, including plague and typhus, through biting, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, a secondary skin infection can occur from scratching itchy bites, according to the National Institutes of Health. They can also cause an allergic reaction.

Hiss credited courthouse employees for patiently working through the infestation.

"It was an uncomfortable situation for the employees," he said. "They did a good job of continuing to work like that."

Hiss said he has heard of bats getting into buildings and causing problems, but never a flea infestation from a dead animal.

"This can happen to anybody," he said, "and it just happened to us this time."

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