Health officials from two counties in northern Arizona are warning the public that fleas are testing positive for the Yersinia pestis bacterium that causes plague.

Following a similar announcement from the Coconino County Public Health Services District, on Friday officials at Navajo County Public Health said that fleas there had also tested positive for the bacterium, ABC News reported.

“Navajo County Health Department is urging the public to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease, which can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits and predators that feed upon these animals,” the public health warning stated. “The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea or by direct contact with an infected animal.”

Plague is the infamous flea-borne infection that killed millions of Europeans in the Middle Ages, decimating populations. The advent of better sanitation and modern antibiotics has held the disease largely in check, although small outbreaks can still occur.

Health officials are advising that people who live, work or visit the two Arizona counties avoid contact with sick or dead animals, and keep any pets from roaming loose, to minimize the chance of contact with rodents or fleas.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plague symptoms include the sudden onset of fever, chills, headache and weakness, as well as inflamed lymph nodes.


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(this articles originally posted on NWA Home page)

(CNN) You may have seen them popping up recently in your Facebook feed — similar in appearance to a cockroach — as reports are shared about the insects possibly invading a state near you. But, just how deadly are they?

According to a map from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, the bugs have been reportedly found in Arkansas.

Sarah Hamer is an assistant professor of epidemiology at Texas A&M’s veterinary and biomedical school. She’s leading the team at Texas A&M investigating these media-friendly bugs, and says, “It’s great we are heightening our awareness — but we don’t need to be terribly scared.”

Nocturnal nuisance

The nocturnal, inch-long triatomine bug has been nicknamed the kissing bug because it feeds on mammals’ blood, and particularly likes to bite around the lips and faces of people when they are sleeping. These bites can turn deadly, when bugs infected with the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi defecate and the fecal matter infects the bite. The infection is known as Chagas disease.

Hamer explained that this perfect storm of events is pretty rare. “The bug has to be there, blood feed, and the parasite needs to be rubbed in, and that’s a lot to have to happen…it’s more rare for kissing bugs to feed on people than mosquitos to feed on people.”

Infection rare

In fact, studies have found that there is only about one case of Chagas, for every 900-4,000 contacts with infected kissing bugs.

Kissing bugs are most active in the summer through early fall.

Most people who are infected only experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, body aches, vomiting and loss of appetite. But between 20% and 30% of those infected result in chronic conditions that aren’t detected until later in life such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, tiredness, and in rare cases, sudden death.

Chagas can also infect dogs. Hamer’s group is tracking the disease both in humans and canines.

Disease coming north

Chagas is endemic to Latin America, where a different species of kissing bugs live and can find their way into rural households. “They might have thatched roof, or poorly insulated walls, and the bugs set up shop and feed on animals and people at home,” Hamer said. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are about 8 million cases of the disease throughout Latin and South America.

The bugs in the United States are most likely to be found outside. The CDC estimates there are about 300,000 cases of Chagas in the United States, with most of those cases contracted in other countries.

However that doesn’t mean that kissing bugs don’t exist here in the U.S. They have been reported in 28 states, with the largest concentration in the south. Hamer’s team collects kissing bugs from the public, and have found over 50% of the bugs to be infected with the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi.

Hamer said the kissing bug and Chagas have long been our neighbors. “The earliest reports are from the 1800s. The first parasites have been reported since the 1940s. We’re just diagnosing more disease, we’re paying attention to it now.”

Preventing pests

To prevent infestation, the CDC recommends that you:

  • Seal cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs and doors
  • Remove wood, brush and rock piles near your house
  • Use screens on doors and windows and repair any holes or tears
  • Seal holes and cracks leading to the attic, crawl spaces below the house, and to the outside
  • Have pets sleep indoors, especially at night
  • Keep your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugs
  • If you suspect you’ve found a kissing bug, the CDC says don’t squash it. Instead, place it in a container and fill with rubbing alcohol or freeze in water and take to your health department.

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Why are the bugs so bad this year?

With weather data in mind, how does a dry and mild winter affect overwintering insects? Some might think warmer temperatures would increase the chances of insect survival. Perhaps that is true. But there are many factors that influence successful overwintering and are worth strong consideration. Some winter survivorship factors are highlighted here:

  1. Insects that overwinter above ground (e.g., bean leaf beetle adults) may be more likely to survive with fewer cold days. But a lack of snow cover can expose insects to those days with below-freezing temperatures, and could increase mortality compared to year with insulating snow.
  2. Insects that overwinter below ground (e.g., Japanese beetle grubs) will not likely be affected by a mild winter because soil temperatures are more constant. However, there could be more survivors than normal if the frost layer is shallow.
  3. All insects develop based on temperature. A warm winter day could cause insects to become active (e.g., woolly bear caterpillars) when they normally would be dormant. Activity uses up stored fats they depend on to survive until the spring. Without access to food, these active insects could starve to death before food becomes available.
  4. Most insects adapt to cold winters by slowly preparing in the fall and staying dormant until the spring. Therefore, large temperature swings can be detrimental to insects; the body can be injured or death can occur. We would expect some insect mortality due to cold intolerance when temperatures regularly fluctuate from 0-50 degrees.

Also, there are other factors to understand before we can predict how successful insects will be in the spring and summer. The same survival factors outlined above also apply to beneficial insects, like predators and parasitoids, and insect-killing pathogens. So ultimately it might not matter too much if more pests survive in a mild winter, because more beneficial insects will likely survive and help regulate spring populations. The uncertainty of insect survival in the winter can make predicting pest populations very difficult.

Lastly, there have been questions about how to calculate degree days with winter days that exceed the lower developmental temperatures (i.e., 50 degrees for most insects). In other words, should we include those warm days in estimating insect development? This is a difficult question to answer, given we do not have a lot of experience with predicting insect development with an especially warm winter. Our educated guess is to calculate accumulating degree days from Jan. 1, 2015. As we observe actual insect development this spring and summer, we will see if temperature models are accurate or need to be slightly modified.

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Spring is just around the corner here in NWA, which means flowers are blooming, trees are budding and hibernating animals are stirring. It also means new paper wasp queens are swooping around, looking for the perfect place to build a nest and lay their eggs.

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t want the queen to settle in or around your home. Fortunately, there are ways to help control new wasp colonies.

What is a Paper Wasp?

As the name suggests, paper wasps are a type of wasp that make their nests from paper. They belong to the sub-family Polistes, and chew wood and vegetation to build their nests.

A typical mature paper wasp colony contains a few dozen wasps, though it can grow larger. However, each nest begins with a single fertilized queen. In the spring, each new queen that survived winter will emerge from the sheltered area in which she over-wintered and set out to establish a new colony. The paper wasp queen then lays her first brood of eggs.

After she raises the larvae, they become worker wasps that forage for food, raise future broods and build any additions to the nest. The queen continues to lay more eggs until late summer. Some of these larvae will be reproductives. Male and female reproductives mate and then the fertilized female reproductives will leave the colony to find a secure place to over-winter. In the spring they’ll come out of hiding to start their new colonies and the cycle begins again.

Where Will I Find Paper Wasp Nests?

paper wasp nest

If paper wasps have built a nest in or around your home, there’s a good chance you’ll see it although this isn’t always the case. The round nest will look like it’s made from gray paper. Additionally, it will hang upside down on a single stalk from a horizontal location.

Paper wasps need to keep their nests protected. Because of this, they tend to build in sheltered locations. Here are several common areas in which you may spot a paper wasp nest:

  • Undersides of balconies or arches
  • Porch ceilings
  • Under overhanging eaves and awnings
  • Window corners
  • Beneath porches and decks
  • Inside gas grills and hose reels
  • Attics and crawl spaces

How to Remove Paper Wasps

Before you decide to remove a wasp nest, you need to remember that paper wasps sting. Their queen is the key to their survival, and they have to keep her safe somehow. Stinging is all they have.

Unfortunately, some people are very allergic to paper wasp stings and may experience some very serious symptoms. Regardless of whether you’re allergic, a sting does not feel good. Nest removal puts you in the path of dozens of potentially aggressive paper wasps, each of which is capable of doling out multiple stings. It’s not a pleasant scenario.

DIY wasp nest removal is not a good idea. It’s a much better idea to leave wasp removal to the professionals. After evaluating the issue, your pest control professional will customize a wasp prevention and control plan to suit your needs.

A paper wasp’s mission in life isn’t to sting you. However, it’s understandable if this isn’t a risk you’re willing to take, especially if you have small children or someone who is allergic to bee or wasp stings living in your home. If that’s you, contact NWA Ladybug Pest Control for help.



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