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The MAG: HEALTH: Look who's sleeping in YOUR bed; THE wild summer weather has been causing havoc with nature - with some real ugly bugs appearing in our homes. JESSICA SHEPHERD reports.

Byline: JESSICA SHEPHER

IT'S not just the rain and thunder that has been bugging us of late - it's the creepycrawlies too.

Pest-control experts say we have had more flying ants, mites, slugs and snails this year than ever before.

And they estimate the wasp population in the region is now DOUBLE what it was five years ago.

It is no surprise given that the region has been battered by hurricane-style winds, lashed by torrential rain - and treated to the odd burst of scorching heat.

All of that has brought millions of unwanted guests into our homes through cracks in the walls, or open windows and doors.

Martyn Smith, head of pest control at Birmingham City Council, says: 'It's been a very busy year for insects, in particular wasps.

'We've had about 30 per cent more requests to treat wasps this summer than last.

'The recent weather has affected the pest population. Sunny and wet weather make plants grow and they are a food source for bugs which means their populations are booming.'

Jen Blakemore, from Quick Kill Ltd in Bilston, near Wolverhampton, says the current muggy climate means more homeowners are returning from their holidays to a flea-ridden house.

She says: 'Fleas are used to biting cats and dogs. So when pets are out of the home while their owners are away, the fleas have to find something else to gnaw.

'It's usually carpets and clothes - and humans just back from their holidays!'

While some creepy-crawlies do no more than damage the sofa, others contaminate food and trigger potentially fatal reactions.

Martyn added: 'A lot of pests do not cause any annoyance or damage at all. But others spread disease, either directly or by leaving viruses and germs on table tops.

'And of course, wasp stings can be lifethreatening to some people.

'The most important thing to remember when treating pests in the home is not to panic.

'Call your local authority's environmental services or a pest-control company who can take effective action.'

SLUGS, SNAILS AND WOODLICE

Slugs and snails often enter damp houses at night, leaving their silvery trails over floors, furniture and houseplants. Woodlice feed on rotten wood or food in dark, damp areas.

Damage: Slugs and snails may eat your house plants but they, like woodlice, are harmless.

How to deal with them: Tackle the damp or pour salt into any entrance holes they are using. You could also use a biological or chemical treatment from a hardware shop. But look carefully at the label to check it's suitable for indoor use.

MOTHSHouse moths feed on natural fibres, particularly where there is food rubbish or sweat.

Damage: Can damage clothes and carpets.

How to deal with them: Vacuum carpets, washclothes and clean drawers and wardrobes.HOVER FLIES AND FLIES

A fly can lay 600 eggs in a day which can hatch into maggots in just two days. Hover flies look like small wasps.

Damage: Flies can spread food poisoning and dysentery. Unlike wasps, hover flies do not sting.

How to deal with them: A fly-spray will kill flies. Once dead, pick them up with a piece of paper and put them in the bin. If you see lots of them, they may be feeding on a tiny animal carcass, like a mouse. Hover flies are actually good for your garden as they pollinate plants.

WASPSJust one wasp nest produces 30,000 wasps a year - so they need to be tackled as soon as possible.

Damage: Somepeople can have a fatal reaction to a sting. It is unlikely wasps will sting unless provoked.

How to deal with them: Call in theexperts or use a powder-based ant-killer and wait until the coldest part of the day to use it.

ANTSAnts look for sweet food to bring back to the queen and their larvae.

Damage: They are harmless and do not spread disease. How to deal with them: Sweepthem up and throw them outside. If you use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of them, throw away the bag because they may still be alive inside it.

Alternatively, use an ant-killer and make sure you don't leave food uncovered.

FLOUR AND DUST MITES

Flour mites show up as little brown dots in dust, bags of flour, pasta and other cereals kept in the damp.

Dust mites are tiny - a gram of house dust can contain 100 to 500.

Damage: Handling food that contains flour mites can cause a rash called grocer's itch. Dust-mite droppings are a known allergen.

When their droppings come into contact with the skin or are inhaled, they may cause allergic reactions such as asthma and/or eczema and perennial allergic rhinitis.

How to deal with them: Throw away allinfested food and clean out containers. Keep opened packets in sealed jars. To reduce dust mites, use anti-allergy vacuum cleaners, and non-allergenic mattresses, pillows and bedding materials. Avoid thick pile carpet and wash sheets and blankets frequently in hot water.

COCKROACHES

These are black beetles with long antennae. They live near warm pipes and boilers.

Damage: They carry diseases and bacteria. How to deal with them: Call in the expertsbecause cockroaches are tricky to control and pose a danger to public health.

SILVERFISH

These cigar-shaped, silver-grey pests hide in damp areas such as the bath or sink.

Damage: They are harmless but may damage wallpaper as they feed on substances such as wallpaper glue.

How to deal with them: An insecticide, such as antpowder, usually does the trick. Focus on cracks and crevices where they lay their eggs.

HOW TO BEAT THE BUGS

Store food in sealed containers.

Vacuum to remove old foodstuffs and debris.

Ensure your kitchen bin has a tight lid and take the rubbish outside as soon as it is full.

Fill gaps in walls and window frames and fit draught excluders at bottom of doors.

Only put clean clothes back in the cupboard.

Use storage items made from minerals and metal - pests find them harder to get through.

Clean kitchen cabinets all over and make sure they are well-sealed.

Grow natural oils which deter insects such as eau-de-cologne mint, pennyroyal (mentha pulgium), rosemary, southernwood (artemisia abrotanum) and tansy.

Cut sprigs when required to release the oils.

Encourage midgeand fly-eating birds, such as house sparrows, tits, swallows and spotted flycatchers, into your garden.

Keep the compost heap far from your house and terrace and make sure it is completely covered to stop flies breeding.

Put a citronella candle on a garden table to ward off bugs when eating outside. The Citronella Bug Spray (pounds 5.25, The Organic Gardening Catalogue) is made from plant extracts and is applied to tables, chairs and surfaces.

Salt and beer can deter snails and bugs.

Pour water over paving slabs and the lawn to discourage ants from nesting.

To stop ants invading your home, apply Barrier Glue (pounds 10.99, Green Gardener) around doorways, windowsills and pots.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Aug 22, 2004
Words:1148
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