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Managing Pests on Your Campus

INDIANAPOLIS — When choosing a school or university most people do a little research on specific programs: the location, the academic curriculum or the school’s extracurricular activities – though the repeated infestations of birds and other pests give potential students two other areas to think about – their health and how safe they are in these new living and academic environments. Bird and other pest issues have become a hot issue in schools throughout the United States especially in the areas of rising health concerns, health-related lawsuits, school code violations and property damage. With pests swarming among students, schools are frantically looking for ways to keep the school health code inspectors at bay.

For instance, it wasn’t long ago that Lawrence Township School District of Indianapolis, Indiana, was infested with over 150 birds that circled in front of the vocational school and parking lot. Max Wilson, custodian of the McKenzie Career Center, commented in American School and Hospital Maintenance, “It made such a bad impression. If it looked bad to me, I knew it looked bad to everyone. They could be run over by vehicles. The geese would walk right on the busy highway, forcing cars to stop.” Along with a bad reputation schools are concerned with the health hazards that these pests can cause. Birds and bats can carry over 60 different diseases that are transmittable to humans. Histoplasmosis, for example, is a respiratory disease that may be fatal and comes from a fungus that grows in dried bird droppings and bat guano. If people don’t take care in removal of bird and bat excrement, they can open themselves up to harming themselves from microscopic invaders. Rats, on the other hand, can carry hundreds more lethal diseases including small pox, Ebola, hantavirus and rat-bite fever, which can be acquired through the bite or scratch of a rodent or the ingestion of food or water contaminated with rat feces.

Brick Township High School located in New Jersey has faced more than just pesky birds. According to Brick Town Bulletin, Karl Rex, a football player, had contracted a skin infection after coming in contact with goose feces on the school football field. Karl was later diagnosed with cellulitis, a bacterial infection under the skin. Parents quoted in the same article that the school’s field is filthy and is covered in goose droppings. However, the emergency room where Karl was taken to explained that they couldn’t exactly say that the infection was caused by goose feces. Although Karl and his mother didn’t take any legal action another school is paying $1.2 million to a teacher that contracted a disease linked to pigeon droppings at a Florida school.

And yet a third instance happened in 1998 when a 51-year-old teacher sued the Palm Beach County School District when he was diagnosed with Cryptococcus infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “this Cryptococcus fungus is found in soil worldwide, usually along with bird droppings.” Lawsuits like this are rare, however they do happen and the school suffers.

The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) reported at one time to having approximately 1,000 pigeons that congregated at their outdoor cafeteria, leaving faculty worried about student’s health. Adolph Torres, faculty member of UCLA stated in School and College, “The pigeons are pests not only because they roam around while you eat but because they’re a source of bacterial contamination and viral disease.” Hazlehurst High School in Mississippi is currently battling a bat infestation in their gymnasium, however, due to insufficient funding the school has yet to resolve this issue. Karl Twyner, superintendent of Hazlehurst Municipal School District, stated in the Clarion Ledger, “I’m worried that a child or teacher would get bitten, although he doesn’t think anyone has gotten sick from the infestation.” Instead of cleaning up the mess, the school has blocked off the infested area and decided to stay open. However, it has been reported that the Mississippi State Board of Education has taken over operation of Hazlehurst High to clean it up despite the lack of funds at the school. The biggest concern for parents, and school officials is first and foremost, the health of children in the learning institutions, though many forget to see the potential physical damage associated with lingering pests and their fecal matter.

Bird droppings and bat guano have acidic elements contained within them that can cause erosion on wood, metal and steel. Although it is not as life-threatening, it can definitely burn a hole in anyone’s budget. The Alamogordo Daily News reported that the New Mexico Public Education Department has been hotly debating the future of the Tularosa School House. The school building is currently up for sale and although several years have passed since the school had a pigeon infestation, the damage still exists. There is currently two-to-three feet of pigeon droppings that have yet to be cleaned-which has affected the overall value of the building.

The question is how do we solve the problem of bird, bat and rodent infestation?

To date, guns, dogs and plastic owls used to be the “solutions” of choice, but pest control companies throughout the world have discovered that while these “solutions” may have worked, they only work for a little while. In fact, these methods aren’t solutions at all. They’re more like stints- they solve the problem for a little while, but then you’ll eventually need to get a cast or something else to really resolve the issue. And while guns, poisons and traps may seem to work, there are more humane, eco-friendly ways to permanently rid school facilities of these problem birds, bats and rodents. Non-toxic, non-lethal and non-harmful is the new motto. Schools have been introduced to many different environmentally-friendly solutions. There are products made to target all animal senses including taste, sound, sight and also physical barriers as well. Each product’s goal is to deter and repel pests, while respecting their existence.

UCLA decided to ‘go green’ and invested in visual scare tactics. They tried an owl-like device which looks like a big yellow beach ball, is 2 ft. in diameter, containing two sets of lenticular, holographic eyes that seem to move wherever the bird is located and happens to look at it. Torres commented in School and College, “I think we’ve found an effective-solution to our problem here.” Taste aversions, which are applied to areas where birds like to feed, are also a popular tactic. The solution, which is not harmful to humans but is repulsive to the palate of birds, is mixed with water and is applied to grass, trees, crops and vegetation. Therefore the bird and or pest is not harmed, but its taste buds are. Basically, when the food source is gone, so will the pests.

Be careful when deciding on a taste aversion solution. There are products available that have chemicals than can cause severe illness or death top the pests and even humans who come in contact with it. To avoid these potential health risks, schools with more serious pest issues should try ultrasonic devices. An ultrasonic device uses sound waves that irritate birds, yet are silent to humans. There are also sonic devices available as well that use real alarm sounds made by pest birds and predator sounds of their mortal enemies that scare the pests away. No matter what kind of pest infestation a school may have (bird, bat, rodents, etc), there is an assortment of products that can meet all levels of concern – both humanely and environmentally.

Keeping schools sanitary might just take more than a mop and broom. Many schools are still not aware of the health risks, lawsuits, code violations and damage that these pests can cause. And without a permanent solution, there could be a hefty price to pay. While pests cannot be avoided, creating situations that are unsavory to them using humane deterrents and repellers are the best solutions. Prevention and staying on top of the infestation are key to avoiding these pest problems altogether. Schools that take preventative measures can help save their money, health, reputation and foreclosure. So, when considering a college, university or grammar school, keep in mind that there are other factors besides curriculum and social life such as health risk issues and sanitation problems that you might want to learn about also.