By Joe Barile, Technical Services Support
Pest management professionals (PMPs) have recently been reporting increases in service requests for flea and tick management. Although the treatment processes for both pests are individually complex, PMPs must understand their commonality as blood-feeding parasites.
These public health pests must have access to suitable hosts to complete their life cycles and successfully reproduce. Although humans may be bitten (and infected by disease-carrying pests), they generally are not suitable hosts for fleas — and are not preferred hosts for ticks. PMPs should invest time in learning the biology and behavior of these pests, in addition to the association between the parasite and the preferred hosts that occur in, or around structures.
Fleas: Adult fleas require access to warm-blooded animals. On these hosts, adult fleas live and mate, while the females oviposit. Humans are not suitable hosts for the most common flea (the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis) that causes structural infestation. Suitable hosts around structures include wild mammals; squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and skunks; commensal rodents; and most importantly, domestic dogs and cats. Because of the close proximity pets have to humans, flea infestations can amplify quickly.
Ticks: Ticks have a complex life cycle that may take years to complete. Immature ticks predominantly seek out small wild mammals such as field/deer mice, wood rats, chipmunks and ground squirrels. Adult ticks will seek (quest) out larger mammals, including deer, raccoons, skunks and opossums.
PMPs recognize that management of these pests begins where the pest/host exposure exists, whether directly on the host or in the environment where the pests find the hosts.
For fleas and ticks, management must begin with on-animal control. Infested wild animals must be excluded and/or eliminated. For pets, professional therapies must be prescribed and maintained for the structural infestation to be eliminated.
To eliminate environmental activity (both indoors and outdoors), management must be brought to where the pest and host interact. For fleas, this includes the indoor environment. For ticks, this is usually the natural outdoor habitat where immature ticks and small, wild mammals co-habit.
Modern formulations of insecticides — and for ticks, acaracides — are effective when used according to label directions. PMPs must exercise care due to the sensitivity of treatment sites and exposure to non-targets (children and pets). Follow rate directions, site use patterns and re-entry requirements as directed on the label.