Pest infestations in schools and universities are not new, yet the issue has received much more media attention in recent years. Despite that attention, professional pest management often has emerged as a likely candidate for budgetary reductions, and even elimination—especially in this latest economic downturn.

This may seem reasonable, especially for school administrators and facility managers. As endowments dip, annual giving is lowered, and education budgets and subsidies are being reduced at the local, state and national levels, it may be difficult to argue for the necessity of pest control when alternative budget decreases affect books, instructors’ salaries, school meals and a host of other worthy needs at education institutions.

Paying attention

Although it may be tempting to relegate pest prevention to the category of a "luxury" expense for education facilities in a time of economic crisis, it cannot be viewed as unrelated to the overall safety of schools and universities. Rather, it must be viewed as necessary to achieving such, especially when considering the following:

  • According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), reports of bedbugs have increased by 71 percent in the past five years; many new reports are coming from colleges, university residence halls and school classrooms.

  • Rodents can contaminate food sources—especially in cafeteria kitchens—with their feces, which can spread E. coli, salmonella and other foodborne illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every year in the United States, 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths are related to foodborne diseases. Rodents also can cause severe damage by gnawing through wallboards, cardboard, wood and plaster, as well as electrical wiring, increasing the potential risk of fire.

  • Recent medical studies have shown that cockroaches carry more than 33 kinds of bacteria, and their allergens can trigger asthma attacks. According to the American Lung Association, asthma has been diagnosed in an estimated 6.2 million U.S. children. Recent medical studies also have shown that cockroach allergens are responsible for numerous allergic reactions in inner-city children and are one of the leading causes of school absenteeism.

These statistics make it clear that pests and rodents pose serious health threats to students, teachers and employees and may be responsible for costly property damage. Infestations also may lead to unwanted attention in the news media.

And now, with the advent of social media, news reports online or in the print or broadcast media no longer are the only concerns. Parents and students can post information easily about the presence of pest problems within a school to Facebook or Twitter accounts—with their own opinions or experiences—sometimes even before facility managers and administrators have an opportunity to fully evaluate the situation and consult with a professional pest-management firm. A strong reputation is difficult to maintain, yet easy to lose.

When evaluating budgets, decisionmakers must consider the consequences of reducing or eliminating professional pest management services—consequences that can include the possibility of a serious public-relations problem.

Prudent partners

Educating students is a primary focus for schools and universities, and part of fulfilling that mission means providing learning environments that are clean, healthful and pest-free. A strong partnership — with facility managers offering extensive knowledge of the education facilities' needs and pest professionals offering expert knowledge of prevention and treatment — is vital.

Pest prevention is a task in which everyone — from janitorial staffs to teachers to cafeteria employees to students — should participate. Some simple, cost-effective pest-prevention measures to help keep pests and rodents outdoors:

  • Seal cracks and holes outside the building, including entry points for utilities and pipes.

  • Keep tree branches and shrubbery trimmed and away from buildings on campus.

  • Repair fascia, soffits and rotted roof shingles; some insects are drawn to deteriorating wood.

  • Don't overlook proper drainage at the foundation; install gutters or diverts, which will channel water away from the building.

  • Replace weatherstripping and repair loose mortar around the foundation and windows.

  • Replace mulch adjacent to school/campus buildings with crushed stone; although mulch is aesthetically pleasing, it can provide a burrowing area for rodents and other pests.

  • Be sure that exterior lights are not directed at doors or above entryways, as they serve as a beacon for unwanted pests.

  • Be sure that teachers and students do not prop doors open; this can prevent unwanted pests and rodent from entering.

  • Fit any doors that must be open with air curtains or plastic strip curtains.

    Specifically with regard to cafeterias and industrial kitchens:

  • Keep storage areas, basements and crawl spaces ventilated and dry.

  • Dispose of garbage in a timely manner.

  • Be sure that employees keep food sealed and stored properly.

  • Clean high-volume areas daily; crumbs and trash are more likely to accumulate in these areas.

  • Address product spills immediately, and clean affected areas as soon as possible.

  • Products and materials should be stored away from windows and walls to reduce the risk of contamination.

  • Many pests can infest bagged meal and powdered food products. Stock should be rotated frequently in storage areas, using the "first in, first out" (FIFO) technique.

  • Storage shelves should be cleaned frequently and free of dust.

Colleges and universities have residence halls as an additional concern for pest management. They should be sure to provide students with prevention tips to keep them safe from pests, notably bedbugs:

  • Teach housekeeping staff how to be vigilant for pests, especially bedbugs. Housekeepers always should pull back the sheets and inspect the mattress seams, particularly at the corners, for telltale stains or spots.

  • Wash all sheets and pillowcases in hot water, as bedbugs are susceptible to high heat.

  • Inspect all secondhand furniture before purchasing or accepting used furniture. Students often bring in someone else's pest under the auspice of kindness.

  • When returning from any travel, vacuum all suitcases thoroughly and encourage students to wash all clothes — even those not worn — in hot water.

Henriksen is vice president of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, Fairfax, Va. She can be reached at mhenriksen@pestworld.org.

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