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Health & science

Extreme pest adventures

Taking on Freddy Roach, Roddy Rodent and the parasitic hordes.

Gray's Pest Control, 3269 W. Davison, Detroit. Painter: Weems
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Published 6/4/2003

The warm months — beaches, gardens, parks: Everyone loves this time of year, right? Especially infatuated with summer, it seems, are the creeping, buzzing, scurrying bugs and rodents that descend on beaches, gardens, parks … and homes. So pest control is the order of the day — and all pests must be offed, because any left on will multiply like ... flies.

The wildest pest control adventure resulted in a new, not-for-the-squeamish game. A Wayne State-area apartment building worker and his assistant, John Foehr, knew that hundreds of holes in a vacant lot next to their building meant rat tunnels underground. Well-stocked alley trash bins nearby attracted the rats. After the pair found a dozen holes in two weedy courts on the building grounds, Foehr says, “We pulled my truck up, stuffed a hose into the tailpipe and filled all but two holes in the courtyard. We stuck the hose in one hole and got the truck running. Jim stood at one hole with his hockey stick and I was at the other with a short-handled shovel. When the rats came sort of staggering out from the carbon monoxide, Jim slapshot ’em over to me and I bashed ’em with the shovel.” A couple guys sitting with their wine on the curb across the street “started hootin’ and hollerin’ for the ‘rat hockey’ players,” recalls Foehr. The “pucked” rats were piled on the vacant lot and the previously unresponsive city pest control agency was called. Rat poison was eventually spread at the lot.

The senior pests of our planet — the cockroaches — summer outdoors and come inside to infest in the cool autumn. Critters that can climb drainpipes into two-floors-up bathtubs define the word “resilient.” The best household remedies against them are boric acid and live traps, used persistently, according to the www.bio.umass.edu “FAQ About Cockroaches.” An oddity: After 400 million years of earthly existence, cockroaches haven’t figured out what every boxer from Mike Tyson on up knows — the feint. Make as if to step on a roach with your right foot, then hop and dance on it with your left.

Those other kitchen terrorists — mice — have learned, Pavlov-style, that a high-pitched “eek!” is their signal to leisurely grab all the cheese they can find. Several simple mousetraps or a cat will reduce their population. But check out the anti-anti-pest viewpoint at www.rmca.org, The Rat & Mouse Club of America. They offer Rodent Fiction, Club Raffles and “Wow. Conversations with a Mouse, Chapter 17: A Hero’s Last Stand.” You might want to toss your computer mouse after this madness.

A Detroit apartment painter creatively and effectively fought outside ants at his home. “First I tried spreading then lighting gasoline on their anthills: Fireworks. Later I gassed ’em with bleach. These are messy and expensive ways. What worked was sprinkling table salt all over. Dried ’em up, cheap, and it worked,” says the happy homeowner.

Sometimes all that can be done is vacuuming the day’s bugs. A Metro Times staffer tells of Japanese beetle infestation in a Boyne Falls cabin: “I’d get up and vacuum them from the walls and window sills each morning.” This resigned approach is also nontoxic to all concerned.

Lyme Disease is a bacterial illness transmitted by infected ticks. The Lyme’s media scare appears spent, but 16,000 U.S. cases were reported in 2002. (Michigan was not among the hardest-hit states.) In 1977, children around Lyme, Conn., experienced arthritis symptoms after being bitten by infected deer ticks. Signs of Lyme’s include, first, a rash and flu-like symptoms, then severe muscle pain, fatigue and depression. www.lymenet.org urges long sleeves, high boots and repellant with DEET in suspect areas. Outdoor occupations and recreation pose a risk, particularly in wooded areas. Checking for and removing ticks from skin and clothing within 36 hours after the initial bite can prevent contraction of the illness. Antibiotics are an effective treatment if Lyme’s is detected early.

West Nile Virus, a mosquito-borne disease, first appeared in this country in 1999. The Wayne County Health Department spools a taped West Nile message to callers of 734-727-7445. It reports 644 cases and 51 deaths from West Nile in Michigan in 2002. Elimination of standing water by draining ponds and cleaning gutters and drains prevents mosquitoes from breeding. West Nile’s symptoms are similar to encephalitis: headache and fever, weakness or rigidity from brain inflammation, and possible coma. Those with weakened immune systems, especially, are advised to avoid the outdoors at dawn, dusk and early evening when mosquitoes are active. Long clothing and repellant with 35 percent DEET are recommended by the county health department tape.

So it seems that the tools of an extreme pest-control champion in Detroit would be: a hockey stick, a shovel, a water sucker, boric acid and DEET. Stock up now. Find them all next to the Saran Wrap and duct tape at your friendly local strip mall.

Take me back to the index of Metro Times' Summer '03 Guide.

Dennis Shea is Metro Times proofreader. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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