Archive for June, 2010

Inspectors find safety flaws where airline food is prepared

June 29, 2010
Six months ago, Food and Drug Administration inspectors say, they found live roaches and dead roach carcasses “too numerous to count” inside the Denver facility of the world’s largest airline caterer, LSG Sky Chefs.

They also reported finding ants, flies and debris, and employees handling food with bare hands. Samples from a kitchen floor tested positive for Listeria, a bacteria that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. It’s also dangerous to pregnant women.

LSG Sky Chefs, which annually provides 405 million meals worldwide for more than 300 airlines, says conditions at the Denver plant didn’t meet company standards. It took immediate measures to remedy the problems, says spokeswoman Beth Van Duyne.

AIRLINE FOOD REPORT: Unsanitary and unsafe conditions

The Denver facility is one of many catering operations that provide food to airlines where FDA inspectors saw unsanitary and unsafe conditions in the last two years, according to inspection reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by USA TODAY.

The reports show “caterers for many of the nation’s air carriers are contaminating foods in a number of ways,” says Roy Costa, a consultant and public health sanitarian who voluntarily agreed to review the reports.

Frequent flier Arthur Debowy, an architect from Highland Mills, N.Y., says the findings are “sickening,” and he’ll be more careful on future flights if food doesn’t smell or taste right.

USA TODAY requested inspection reports since January 2009 for the two biggest airline caterers, LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet, and a third large caterer, Flying Food Group. Combined, the three companies have 91 kitchens preparing in-flight food for many big U.S. and foreign airlines at U.S. airports.

As of Friday, the FDA’s regional offices had sent reports for 46 facilities. At 27 of them, FDA inspectors noticed suspected food-preparation violations or objectionable practices. Among them:

•An FDA inspector spotted a mouse, rodent nesting materials and rodent feces under a pallet of food and in other areas at LSG Sky Chefs’ Minneapolis facility during a May 2009 inspection.

•The Dulles, Va., facility of Gate Gourmet, the second-largest caterer in the USA, failed to keep shrimp, filet mignon, Chilean sea bass, chicken and vegetables, and pastrami and cheese sandwiches at the proper temperature during an inspection in August. When an inspector mentioned the unsafe practice to company personnel, the shrimp and the pastrami and cheese sandwiches were not thrown in the garbage.

Employees with “unclean hands” were handling food. A lab report found a “high coliform count” in rice.

•At Gate Gourmet’s San Diego facility in November, the director of operations said the company would cook any food to an airline’s specification without regard to food safety guidelines, an FDA inspector wrote. He also wrote that a Gate Gourmet official said the company doesn’t verify if food is from approved sources or frozen for “parasite destruction.” Raw meats aren’t cooked to adequate temperatures — a repeat violation that was also cited in 2008.

•A Los Angeles facility of Flying Food Group had a corroded and taped ice-machine door that failed to “hold ingredients in bulk or in suitable containers to protect against contamination,” an inspector wrote in an April report.

Making improvements

After the Los Angeles, San Diego, Dulles and Minneapolis inspections, Flying Food Group, Gate Gourmet and LSG Sky Chefs were issued a document called Form 483 by FDA inspectors. The form is only issued, the FDA says, when there are “significant” suspected violations of regulations or objectionable practices.

In the inspection reports, several LSG Sky Chefs and Gate Gourmet facilities received Form 483s on two or three consecutive inspections. Repeat violations were noted at some facilities.

When serious violations occur — such as those at LSG Sky Chef’s roach-infested Denver facility — the FDA may issue a warning letter. A company has 15 days to address the problems.

Sky Chefs facilities have received 18 warning letters since 1996, according to a USA TODAY analysis of the agency’s online database. Three were received after German airline Lufthansa acquired controlling interest in the company in June 2001, and the company has taken many steps since then to ensure food safety, spokeswoman Van Duyne says.

Besides the warning letter sent in December, the company’s Denver facility received one in May 2001 for a number of deficiencies.

Two years ago, LSG Sky Chef’s facility in East Granby, Conn., was issued a warning letter because tilapia filets and shrimp meals were “prepared, packed or held under insanitary conditions” that may be “injurious to health.” There was concern about botulism, caused by toxins that are among the most poisonous to humans.

Sky Chefs implemented a global quality and safety system “harmonizing food safety at all its kitchens” in 2002, says Van Duyne. Since then, the company has served more than 3 billion meals, and “there has never been a report of a food-borne illness outbreak related to our facilities,” she says.

Gate Gourmet’s most recent warning letter was issued in April 2005 to its Honolulu facility. Among other violations, FDA inspectors found cockroaches and fruit flies, food stored at improper temperatures, mold in a refrigerator and “a pink, slimy substance” dripping onto a conveyor for a pot-washing machine.

Eight months earlier, 47 passengers became ill — and 116 other passengers probably became ill — after eating food on 12 flights from Hawaii catered by Gate Gourmet, according to the Hawaii State Department of Health. The likely cause was raw carrots, says agency spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

Gate Gourmet Vice President Norbert van den Berg says the company has an excellent system to ensure safe food, including temperature-controlled facilities and use of an independent auditor. His company’s food-safety standards are superior to any restaurant, he says. “We can guarantee the safest product out there,” van den Berg says.

Flying Food Group received a warning letter for 11 deficiencies — including inadequately protecting food from contamination — at a Jamaica, N.Y., facility in 2000. The company has since moved to a “state-of-the-art” facility at nearby JFK airport, says Glenn Caulkins, vice president of quality assurance.

Caulkins says Flying Food Group has invested a lot of money to ensure that its facilities prepare and process food safely. The company quickly addresses or corrects any concerns in FDA inspection reports, he says.

After the April inspection at the Los Angeles facility noted concerns about the ice machine, the company installed a new one, he says.

Fewer meals, fewer problems

FDA officials say the number of warning letters issued to airline caterers has declined in recent years.

Cost-cutting airlines are serving fewer fresh meals. Some have eliminated meals. And airline caterers have incorporated government food-safety guidelines into their own guidelines, says FDA spokesman Ira Allen.

“With less ready-to-eat fresh food offered in coach class and substitution with prepackaged, shelf-stable foods, the opportunity for poor preparation, storing foods at improper temperatures and food-handling violations is much lower,” Allen says.

Mary Ann Dowd of the International Flight Services Association, which represents airlines and caterers, says the inspectors’ findings are a concern because the trade group works hard to promote food safety. The group will soon distribute a new edition of food-safety guidelines for caterers and airlines.

Despite fewer warning letters, inspection reports show that caterers are ignoring the guidelines and FDA requirements on fresh food they’re preparing, says Costa, the public health consultant.

“The airlines, which have the primary liability for the safety of their passengers, have a serious supplier control problem,” he says.

Airlines say they require their caterers to provide government inspection reports, and they do their own unannounced inspections.

Inspectors find safety flaws where airline food is prepared


There’s an app for that?

June 28, 2010

Homeowners and pest-control technicians have a new option for identifying bugs lurking in houses and other buildings — an app for the iPhone.

The downloadable application, which was developed by researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, provides colour photos and text describing almost 40 pest species.

Called iPest1, it is one of the first mobile-phone apps dealing with pest insects. It is compatible with Apple mobile devices including the popular iPhone and sells for $1.99 (£1.33).

’Proper identification of pests is crucial in effective pest management. I wanted to have a mobile guide to household pests, to help educate people,’ said University of Florida entomologist Rebecca Baldwin, principal developer. ’I couldn’t find one, so we ended up creating one.’

The app focuses on four topics: cockroaches, filth-breeding flies, pests that occasionally enter dwellings and pest droppings. Many of the species included are found nationwide or even worldwide, but the selection leans toward pests common in the southeastern US, Baldwin added.

Each species is shown in a colour photo and actual-size silhouette. The images are accompanied by text that includes common and scientific names, habitat, biology, behaviour and distribution. Users can enlarge photos and activate links to related University of Florida documents.

The idea came about more than a year ago, when Baldwin bought an iPhone and began browsing educational wildlife apps and soon realised there was almost nothing to help people identify pests.

After polling pest-control industry personnel, Baldwin found there was significant interest in an iPhone app. So, with a grant from the Florida Co-operative Extension Service — the outreach arm of the University of Florida’s agriculture programme — she spent much of late 2009 and early 2010 developing iPest1.

Proceeds from iPest1 — which has sold close to 100 units since the release in early May — will be used toward the development of additional apps in the iPest series.

Professionals have already begun using iPest1. Linda Prentice, a certified associate entomologist with BugOut Service, a northeast Florida-based pest control company, said she has had the app for two weeks and it has drawn interest from many colleagues.

The app can also help pest-control technicians educate customers about organisms found during inspections, said Allen Fugler Jr, executive vice-president of the Orlando-based Florida Pest Management Association.

Al Hoffer’s Pest Protection Inc.

Mosquito control gears up

June 25, 2010

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Mosquitoes can quickly put a damper on any outdoor activity, and the ability of the tiny blood-sucking insects to spread disease makes them more of a public health threat than a nuisance.

The 13-member staff of the Beach Mosquito Control District is dedicated to alleviating the risks posed by mosquitoes through research and population control, but are also marking Mosquito Control Awareness Week, which continues through Saturday, by asking residents to redouble their efforts at eliminating potential breeding grounds around their home.

Cindy Mulla of the Beach Mosquito Control District said 45 species of mosquitoes reside in the Panhandle and about 80 statewide. Several of these species are a primary conduit for the spread of diseases, including eastern equine encephalitis, St. Louis encephalitis, West Nile and heartworms. The Beach Mosquito Control District tests mosquitoes and monitors diseases in its area, which spans from the Hathaway Bridge to Lake Powell. In the last three to four years, very few mosquito-related viruses were reported in the region, but Bay County had the highest rate of West Nile infection in Florida in 2005.

Florida’s heat and humidity has long made it an ideal location for mosquitoes. In the 19th century, Mulla said Panama City and the surrounding area were part of what was referred to as the “malaria belt,” a strip beginning in Daytona Beach and extending northwest that was infamous for high malaria fatalities each year. Mosquitoes played a key role in spreading the disease. Wealthy residents typically moved north during the hottest months, but those without the means to do so suffered greatly, she said.

“Without mosquito control, this area would be nearly uninhabitable,” Mulla said.

Wet weather in April and May led to a large uptick in mosquitoes, but a relatively dry June has caused the population to fall significantly, etymologist Dale Martin said. The fastest growing population identified recently has been domestic mosquitoes, which people breed in and around their homes without even knowing it. The mosquito control district is reminding people to empty standing water from where it might pool around the home. Plant saucers, kiddie pools and wheelbarrows also are popular culprits.

“One bird bath has the potential to spawn 10,000 mosquitoes in one year,” Mulla said.

The explosive ability of the insects to multiply — one female mosquito lays about 250 eggs at a time — has caused the mosquito control district to focus on killing larvae before they mature to adulthood. About 1,000 ditches, catch basins and retention ponds in the district are treated regularly with insecticide, and crews also respond to resident complaints.

It is impossible to stop all larvae from maturing, so the district also maintains a helicopter to spray areas with high concentrations of mosquitoes.

While some people have expressed concern over the chemicals in the spray, pilot Brad Gunn said only about two tablespoons of insecticide is used to treat about an acre of land. The spray is also highly targeted and can be used only in areas where the mosquito population has reached a high concentration. The district closely monitors the mosquito population with traps.

“Any spraying we do we have to have justification,” Gunn said. “The days of just wild guessing are long gone. … The people at the beach appreciate it I think. They’re used to seeing me.”

On an individual level, Mulla said following the five Ds of prevention will minimize exposure to the pests: wearing DET insect repellent, draining standing water, dressing in clothing with long sleeves and pants and avoiding the outdoors at dawn and dusk.

People also can report problems with mosquitoes at Mulla said crews are on the road every day and will respond to complaints in a timely manner.

Sudden appearance of equine encephalitis has health officials warning of mosquitoes

June 24, 2010

Summer’s rainy season means mosquitoes are back with a vengeance, and so mosquito-born diseases are returning, too.

By Stacey Singer

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Summer’s rainy season means mosquitoes are back with a vengeance, and so mosquito-born diseases are returning, too.

The Martin County Health Department warned Tuesday that two sentinel chickens from its early warning flock have tested positive for Eastern equine encephalitis, a viral disease that can be fatal to horses, and on rare occasions sickens humans, too.

It’s the first time that eastern equine encephalitis has been seen in Martin County in 30 years, the Martin County Health Department said.

Several mosquito-born germs that are dangerous to humans use birds as hosts, and so health agencies keep outdoor chicken flocks, taking blood samples as a way to track those diseases.

In Palm Beach County last year another mosquito-borne disease, West Nile encephalitis, appeared twice in chickens. There were no known human cases. Meanwhile, another mosquito-borne Dengue fever has been acquired locally in Key West this year, leading health officials here to warn doctors to be on the alert for the seldom-seen tropical disease.

Dengue fever is known in the Caribbean as “bone-break fever.” Frontal headache, pain behind the eyes, weakness, malaise, nausea and vomiting are typical symptoms, and they last about a week in most cases.

The appearance of Eastern equine encephalitis in Martin County is a big concern for the equestrian community. Veterinarians urged horse owners to make sure their animals are current on the vaccine.

“I have never seen a horse survive eastern equine encephalitis,” said Dr. Ben L. Schachter, a veterinarian with Wellington Equine Associates. “It gets into their central nervous system and causes all kinds of problems. Seizures, high fevers, strange behaviors.”

Schachter recommends his horse patients be vaccinated against the virus quarterly. If they haven’t had their booster within the past three months, they need to be revaccinated now, he said.

While Eastern equine encephalitis is dangerous for horses, it usually produces mild or no symptoms in humans, health agencies said. There are exceptions, though.

“Most people who become sick from mosquitoes have mild symptoms like headache, fever, dizziness and fatigue, but more severe symptoms are possible,” said Renay Rouse, spokeswoman for the Martin County Health Department. “Anyone with severe symptoms should contact their primary care physician or seek immediate medical care.”

Florida is a national hot spot for Eastern equine encephalitis, with 75 known cases in animals last year, but nearly all were in northern Florida, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The appearance of the disease known as this far south means it’s time for everyone to take precautions, health officials said.

“The mosquito season is here,” said Palm Beach County Health Department spokesman Tim O’Connor. “Be aware that they are out and biting at dawn and dusk. Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants and use an effective insect repellent.”


Termites take region by swarm

June 22, 2010

TAMPA – The only evidence that they are crawling within the wood rafters and wall studs is the occasional clear, discarded wing or the coffee-grounds-like droppings on a window sill or in the corner of a room.

Occasionally, they can be seen flying around at night, maybe bumping into the flickering television screen or flitting around the reading lamp.
Dry wood termites have landed, and this time of year they are swarming. And around the Tampa Bay area, they are really swarming.

“More in your area than up here,” Phil Koehler, an entomologist and researcher with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said from his Gainesville office.

“There have been tremendous problems with dry wood termites in Tampa,” he said. “They do a lot better in higher humidity along coastal areas.”

Dry wood termite populations tend to thin out inland and in areas north of the Bay area, he said, because the cold kills them off in the winter.

Typically, swarms can inhabit a home for up to five years before anybody notices, he said. Their numbers are not as prevalent as subterranean termites, which can swarm into a home by the thousands, even tens of thousands in the first year. Dry wood termites enter a dozen or so at a time but can multiply unseen for years, he said.

By the time you notice them, they’ve probably lived there longer than you.

“We are getting right into the swarming season for dry wood and Formosa termites,” Koehler said. He said Formosa termites, like subterranean termites, which swarmed earlier in the year, “can be the most destructive termites we have in their ability to cause damage.”
Formosa termites are difficult to detect because, like subterranean termites, they invade homes underground. Dry wood termites aren’t so sneaky.

“They swarm,” Koehler said. “You can see them in the home. They fly around the TV set or the light in the room, not in large numbers.”

The only way to treat a dry wood termite infestation: Wrap your house in canvas and gas them with enough toxic fumes to kill everything inside, he said.

The good news, Koehler said, is that dry wood termites work slowly. It could take years before they are noticed, and even longer to cause significant damage.

“They are not all that mobile,” he said. “They tunnel through wood.”

All kinds of termites cause an estimated $5 billion damage to homes in the United States each year, according to the National Pest Management Association’s website.

Keeping dry wood termites from munching on your rafters isn’t that complicated, the site said.

“Dry wood termites can be avoided by making sure firewood and scrap wood is stored at least 20 feet from the home,” the association suggested. “Because dry wood termites form new colonies by gaining access to wood through small holes, seal all cracks and crevices in a structure.”

Rick Ricker has been treating homes for termites and other pests for eight years, and calls about dry wood termite infestation this year have eclipsed previous years.

“Dry wood termites are bad every year,” said Ricker, owner of Rick Ricker Termite and Pest Control in Odessa, “but this year is an extremely swarmy season. It’s been a bizarre year. Even the subterraneans were swarming into May.” Subterranean termites typically swarm in February and March.

“There seems to be lot of swarms this year,” he said, “and, truthfully, I think that the economy is a little bit better than last year.”

Some callers confessed that they first spotted wings and droppings last year but couldn’t afford treatment.

Evidence of entomological invasion

Pest control experts say you may have termites if:

•A lot of bugs are flying inside or around your house. To differentiate between termites and flying ants, take a close look: Termites have straight abdomens and ants have a narrow “waist” between segments.

•Interior walls begin to sag or bow.

•You spot small, transparent wings that termites shed.

•Small drinking-straw-width tubes of mud form on exterior walls.

•Wet or deteriorated wood or sawdust-like droppings appear around windowsills.

Hiring a pest control company?

•Read the contract cover to cover. You may find disclaimers of liability and arbitration clauses, which can make it difficult if not impossible to sue the company for incompetence or fraud.

•Demand a repair guarantee. Even seemingly minor termite damage can cost thousands of dollars to repair. Extensive termite damage can require a house to be torn down and rebuilt.

•Make sure the contract spells out a mandatory routine inspection of your property – once a year – inside and out.

Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760.


5 ways to help out in the oil spill

June 21, 2010
  1. Volunteer your time — Many organizations are recruiting volunteers, including The Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Greater New Orleans Foundation. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LBB) offers a few ways to volunteer and the Environmental Protection Agency has created, which includes hotlines to volunteer opportunities.
  2. Adopt a bird — The International Bird Rescue Resource Center (IBRRC) has an ongoing adopt-a-bird program where you can help ducklings, egrets, and pelicans that have been effected by this oil spill and other disasters (see image below).  Gulf-Oiled-Pelican-Before-After-Cleaning by IBRRC.Perhaps due to legal requirements, sometime in the past few days the IBRRC changed their donation page to note that “BP has committed to paying for the clean-up and wildlife rescue efforts in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. While your donations cannot be used to fund bird rescue operations in this spill, IBRRC welcomes support for its ongoing programs to rescue and rehabilitate aquatic birds by donatingbecoming a member or adopting a bird.”  In any case, the IBRRC appears to be on a mission worthy of your support.
  3. Get a haircut — A unique way to support the oil spill cleanup effort is to get a trim at a barbershop or salon that sends off your clipped hair to be used in those oil containment booms we’ve seen all over the news. The non-profit Matter of Trust provides further information and the following video offers a little insight into this unique way to help:  
  4. Make noise — Although you can submit suggestions on stopping the oil spill and/or limiting the damage to the Deepwater Horizon Response site (apparently BP’s suggestion box has been overflowing for some time now), you should also be sharing your thoughts with both your locally and nationally elected representatives. If you think the government response has been lacking, if you want better oversight of offshore drilling, or if you’re tired of multi-national corporations polluting our oceans (all of the above?), make yourself heard.  Review our Contact Your Government article from last year, which provides an easy way to get in touch with your mayorgovernorcongresspersonsenator and president in a matter of minutes.
  5. Stay informed — Several sites keep you up-to-date on the oil spill, but some of my favorites include the LBB’s Oil Spill Crisis Map, the National Wildlife Federation, NOAA, and the sad but true Consolidated Fish and Wildlife Collection Report from IBRRC.  Most news outlets will give you top-level information on BP’s response, but these sites will give you more detailed information that shows the true breadth and impact of the disaster.

Via :

Time Magazine Wellness Blog: How to make your own bedbug detector

June 18, 2010

Here’s an after-school science experiment gone right: researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey created a homemade bedbug trap using a cat-food dish, an insulated jug and some dry ice pellets. According to the lead investigator, Wan-Tien Tsai, who reported her findings in December at the annual meeting of the Entomological Society of America, the dry-ice-and-jug combo lured the blood-sucking critters in an infested apartment just as effectively as, if not better than, equipment used by professional exterminators.

The contraption consisted of an insulated one-third-gallon jug (you can find them in camping stores) filled with about 2.5 lbs. of dry ice pellets. The spout was left open, allowing carbon dioxide — the telltale sign of a breathing, blood-filled meal nearby — to seep out, enticing the nocturnal insects for some 11 hours. The setup, as described in an article on

[Tsai] stood the jug in a plastic cat food dish with a piece of paper taped on the outside of the dish as a ramp up to the rim. The bowl’s steep, slippery inside, with an added dusting of talcum powder, kept bugs from crawling out again. … The parts, including the dry ice, cost $15 and don’t require any special skills for assembly. “Everyone can do it,” she said.

The MacGyver-ized bedbug trap can’t replace a proper extermination of an infested home, but it could at least let you know whether or not you’ve got a problem. Bedbugs have made a serious comeback in North America over the past few years, especially in big cities like Toronto, San Francisco and New York, where complaints of infestations in rental apartments have increased many times over. Increasing international travel has also contributed to sharp rises in bedbug activity around the globe. The creatures don’t discriminate in the places they infest — they’ve been found in apartment buildings, hotels, dorms, schools and even subway stations.

For everything you never wanted to know about bedbugs, some further reading: a comprehensive bedbug website written by Michael Potter, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; a New York Times article about dogs that sniff out bedbugs; and an online registry where users report bedbug infestations in apartment buildings and hotels in North America.

Read more:

Tracking Disease Through Mosquito Slobber

June 17, 2010

By Michael Price

This is nothing to spit at: Scientists say they may be able to track deadly mosquito-borne diseases by studying the saliva the insects leave behind when they feed on sugary bait.

Mosquito-borne diseases are a major health hazard worldwide. Some, like malaria, chronically afflict certain regions. But others, such as dengue fever, West Nile virus, and chikungunya, can rapidly emerge in new locations or reappear in areas where they’ve gone dormant. That means public health officials must keep a constant eye on the diseases’ movement.

The usual methods for detecting mosquito-borne viruses all have a weakness: Relying on clinical diagnoses means a disease has already arrived in the population; keeping ”sentinel” animals is costly, and the animals themselves provide a food source for mosquitoes; and capturing thousands of mosquitoes and analyzing their RNA is expensive and labor-intensive.

Now, Andrew van den Hurk, a virologist with Queensland Health Forensic and Scientific Services in Coopers Plains, Australia, and colleagues have found a way to monitor mosquito-borne diseases that may be simpler than current methods and suitable for use over large geographic areas. For their new study, the researchers took advantage of the fact that mosquitoes are sloppy eaters: When they feed on a sugar source, the insects leave behind a slobbery mess. And van den Hurk and colleagues have found that they can detect viruses in that residue of mosquito spit, as they report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

To prove it, the scientists created box traps that lure mosquitoes with carbon dioxide gas—mosquitoes are attracted to the stuff because it indicates the presence of a breathing animal and therefore a meal—and then suck them inside with a fan. Once inside the trap, the mosquitoes feed on filter paper soaked with honey—dyed blue so that the color rubs off on the mosquitoes that take the bait. The researchers set out traps in Bunbury in Western Australia and near Cairns, in Northeastern Australia—two historical hot beds of the mosquito-borne Ross River and Barmah Forest viruses. Over 11 weeks, scientists returned to the traps weekly to collect the filter paper and trapped mosquitoes and send them to the lab for analysis.

Whenever the filter paper returned positive results for viral RNA, the labs also found the viruses present in the mosquitoes they’d captured, meaning the filter paper accurately reflected the presence of virus-carrying mosquitoes. The scientists suggest the technique might be able to be modified to detect other diseases like malaria and bluetongue virus.

Honey is antibacterial, so it’s an excellent medium for protecting viral RNA from bacteria until researchers return to collect it. The traps can be left out for more than a week, allowing them to set out traps over a relatively large geographical range and check the traps intermittently, the researchers say. Another benefit is speed. Labs can analyze the filter paper using an RNA-identifying technique known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction, which reveals whether the diseases are present almost instantaneously. By contrast, sorting, preserving, and transporting trapped mosquitoes for RNA analysis is a much lengthier and more laborious process. The current method also requires keeping the mosquito samples cold—something that’s not always feasible in hot, tropical environments.

Jonathan Day, an entomologist at the University of Florida’s medical entomology lab in Vero Beach, says that, compared with analyzing trapped mosquitoes or finding infection in sentinel animals, the new technique could essentially cut in half the time it takes to detect and respond to an outbreak in a new area,. But he says it remains to be seen whether the technique will be cost-efficient enough to warrant researchers switching to it. ”It certainly is clever,” Day says, ”but cost is the critical factor.” Day also points out that the technique lets you know only whether the disease is present and cannot tell researchers how widespread the infection is among an area’s mosquito population.

Rory McAbee, a biologist with the Fresno Mosquito and Vector Control District in California, agrees that the method could be a timesaver for researchers, but cautions that the traps will only work for mosquitoes that are attracted to carbon dioxide. ”Not all species are going to go into the trap,” she says. ”This would have to be evaluated for each species and virus.”

South Florida Mosquito Control Services

How do I prevent picking up bed bugs when on vacation?

June 15, 2010

St. Petersburg Times (FL): Daily Q&A: How do I prevent picking up bed bugs when on vacation?

By Ivan Penn

With reports of bed bug infestations growing because of travelers picking them up in their luggage and other belongings, what can I do to prevent picking up bed bugs while on vacation?

The National Pest Management Association says bed bug infestation has been growing since 2001. Travelers can follow some easy steps to guard against bed bugs.

“Travelers can unknowingly bring bed bugs into their homes, giving the pests a new place to live and feed,” said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for NPMA. “Bed bugs multiply quickly and can be difficult to eliminate. We advise travelers to keep a few bed bug prevention tips in mind to avoid this most unwanted trip souvenir.”

Here are tips from the NPMA when traveling and using hotels:

• Pull back the hotel bed sheets and inspect the mattress seams, particularly the corners, for telltale brownish or reddish spots.

• Thoroughly inspect the entire room before unpacking. Do not put your luggage on the bed.

• If you change rooms, but choose to stay in the same establishment, be sure your new room is not adjacent to the possibly infested room. Use a large plastic bag to store your luggage.

• When you return home, inspect and vacuum your suitcases thoroughly before bringing them into the house.

• Wash all your clothes – whether worn or not – in hot water.

Florida Bed Bug Control

South Florida Termite Control Company ~ Al Hoffer’s

June 14, 2010

St. Petersburg Times: Dry wood termites on the rise in the Tampa Bay area this year

By Ivan Penn

It’s like a 911 center at Emergency Pest Patrol Inc. in Tampa. Twice as many homeowners as in previous years call to complain of swarming bugs.

At Haskell Termite & Pest Control Inc., fumigation treatments (the ones with the big tents over the whole house) have reached 25 a day — 10 above the usual. Calls for service have reached 100 a day.

And pest control giant Terminix says its calls for new inspections and service in the area shot up more than 200 percent in the last four days.

The trouble (or sometimes only the fear): swarming dry wood termites.

The Tampa Bay area is home to multiple types of the critters. The two of greatest concern are the subterranean termites (which generally swarm earlier in the year between February and mid to late April) and dry wood termites (which swarm from mid April to June or even as late as July).

The swarming insects are looking for new opportunities to build nests and breed.

This year, subterranean termites, which build nests in soil, seem to have been held at bay, perhaps because of the long, extremely cold winter. But the dry wood termites, which can nest in various areas of a home, seem to be booming.

“The dry wood season took off two and half weeks ago,” said Terminix regional services manager Joe Garland, who has battled the pest for 19 years in the Tampa Bay area. “We’re pressed. . . . I know all companies are ramping up.”

Added Brad Haskell, owner of Haskell Termite & Pest Control: “It definitely seems like it’s busier than last year and the year before.”

Some of the problem, though, isn’t termites at all.

“Lots of times it is ants,” said Wayne Rudolph, who takes calls and sets appointments for Emergency Pest Patrol.

What’s the difference?

Ants have three segments to their bodies — a head, body and end. Termites have a head and a single, elongated body.

Ant swarms have added to the influx of calls, but everyone the Times contacted agreed there’s an uptick in the termites swarming this year.

“Dry wood termites are a problem in Tampa,” said Mike Page, bureau chief for entomology and pest control in the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The reason for the increase in swarms isn’t entirely clear. It’s not necessarily something that happened this year. It could be the effect of conditions set in motion years ago.

It takes several years for a dry wood colony to produce winged “swarmers.” Often homeowners don’t even know they have a problem until they see a bunch of discarded wings.

Page noted that improvement in treatments could have kept termite populations down in recent years. That would make any increase more noticeable.

An effective process to kill termites is fumigation, which requires the pest control company to drape a tent over the entire house. The exterminators use toxic gas to kill the bugs — and it kills most anything else in the house during the process.

So every living creature you want alive must be removed — people, pets and all.

“It’s a very dangerous way to do pest control,” Page said. “Families have got to move out.”

The process costs from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the size of the house.

If you suspect termites, Page says don’t panic. Pest control companies offer termite inspections for free, and any problem there might be isn’t going to destroy your home overnight.

“I know the idea of some insect eating their house is unsettling,” Page said. But “the house is not going to collapse in three weeks.”

South Florida Termite Inspection