Friday, May 18, 2007

Insects creep their way into the headlines

Our newspaper carried a story the other day titled, "Out for blood: It's time to watch for disease-carrying ticks." Three varieties of these blood-sucking bugs are out in the woods, trails and backyards waiting to hitch a ride on a passing human, have a free meal and pass on Lyme disease.

Preventive measures were described so people can enjoy themselves outdoors while warding off ticks, then check themselves afterward for the unwanted guests.

Ticks aren't the only insects to keep an eye on this spring. Other bugs are making the news.

The first pools of mosquitoes infected with the West Nile virus were discovered last week in suburban Chicago. As days pass, the disease's presence will widen as it has each summer since the huge outbreak in 2002, when 884 human cases were reported, with 67 fatalities. Last year wasn't as bad, with 215 human cases and 10 deaths, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Still, it's a disease not to be ignored.

People can act to reduce the chances of contracting the virus. First, drain or regularly replace areas of standing water on your property, so mosquitoes don't have a chance to reproduce. Then, act to avoid mosquito bites. Wear repellent and long-sleeved shirts when outside. Fix holes in screened windows and doors to help keep mosquitoes out of the house.

Not to be outdone, the emerald ash borer has bored its way into the news. The University of Illinois Extension actually has named May 20-26 as Emerald Ash Borer Awareness Week. Officials are asking ash tree owners to inspect their trees during May and June, the time when the green beetles emerge from holes they burrowed into the tree bark. An infestation can kill the host tree, but insecticides exist that ought to knock out the bug.

Emerald ash borers were found in Kane and Cook counties last year, but they are bound to spread. People who don't want to lose their ash trees should be on guard. One way to halt the borer's movement is to refrain from transporting firewood.

On the farm, it's time to round up the usual insect suspects that threaten crop health: cutworms, rootworms, aphids and Japanese beetles. We wish farmers well in controlling these and other pests. Their livelihood and our food supply depend on it.

In the yard, other springtime bugs have returned. It's the season of bee stings and ant bites. People would be wise to take preventive measures, but in all cases, avoid going overboard with insecticides. Read the labels and use these products conservatively.

'Tis the season for insects. Keep the fly swatter handy.


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