Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bugs at North Mianus school weren't bedbugs

The bugs found last month at North Mianus School weren't bedbugs after all, but instead a rare, closely related type of insect that feasts on the blood of birds.

The vampire-like critters are called chimney swift bugs (cimexopsis nyctalis), according to a letter sent by the school district to North Mianus parents last week.

The bugs are named after the type of bird from which they usually feed.

"It is in the bed bug family, but is not a `bed bug,' " states the letter, which was obtained by Greenwich Time. "It does not feed on humans; it feeds on birds. These bugs are very small and have very similar characteristics and are often confused with bed bugs."

Dr. Gail Ridge, of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station's Department of Entomology, alerted the district about the type of bugs found in the school after the department received samples following the discovery.

The insects are not often seen, said Ridge, who explained that the department maintains an extensive collection of insects found in Connecticut. The last chimney swift bug sample to be collected dates back to 1942, she said.

"They're fast little runners," she said. "They have very short beaks, designed to go through the skin of birds. Basically, it's a portable straw."

Exterminators were called to the school Jan. 30 after the discovery of what were believed to be bedbugs, which feed on human blood. The first discovery came on Jan. 25, the same day the school district held a bedbug forum during which Ridge was a featured speaker.

The North Mianus findings were the first such discoveries of bedbug-like insects since last year, when bedbugs were found at Hamilton Avenue School on four separate occasions.

In a departure from their name, the insects found at North Mianus School were left behind not by chimney swifts, but by pigeons nesting in the school's exhaust and chimney.

"The chimney offered a vertical route for (the bugs) to move," said Ridge, who is also chair of the Connecticut Coalition Against Bed Bugs.

"It was kind of a treasure trove," she said of the discovery.

District spokeswoman Kim Eves said in late January that workers from Parkway Exterminating, based in Valhalla, N.Y., searched and treated the impacted area of North Mianus School. The insects were first found in a staff bathroom, and two days later, three other live bugs were found in a classroom, in and around carpet squares stored near a wall that separates the staff bathroom and the classroom. The exterminators discarded the carpet squares and also opened up a section of the wall between the two rooms to steam clean and vacuum it, Eves said.

The high heat from steam cleaning kills bedbugs and is often used to treat large areas, such as schools.

The school's vent and chimney were cleaned this week by an exterminator while students are on winter break, according to the letter from the school district. The exterminator will install a mesh barrier on the vent and chimney to prevent further nesting of birds.

The bathroom and classroom were closed Feb 1., Eves said.

"All expectations are that the students will be back in the classroom Tuesday," she said.
Active bedbug monitors placed in the school following the discovery revealed no evidence of insects Feb. 6, according to the letter.

Monitoring of the attic will continue until there is no further evidence of chimney swift bugs, according to the letter.

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