Summer 2015 Newsletter - Invisible Bugs?
I hope that you have had the chance to benefit from the experiences of the wonderful network of operators, vendors, and researchers in our industry. Likely, over dinner or drinks, your conversations have probably covered a lot of interesting ground. Look around the restaurant next time you're engaged in lively table talk over the worst roach job you have ever seen, or the new-hires reaction to his first bed bug infested apartment complex, and ask yourself how many other similar conversations are going on in your average restaurant. Many bystanders that are not in our industry don't seem to understand the excitement and awe that many of us feel when we hear about that one job with the guy who had roaches in his beard, or the town home with bed bugs on the kitchen counter, or the mice who caused rust holes in the heating ductwork with their urine, or... Well, you get the picture. Pest control is a science and we are professional researchers, observing on a daily basis the ever changing adaptations of our target pests, however entertaining, and implementing corresponding adaptations of the practices and products we employ. Professional pest control requires observation of, and manipulation of tangible things. Mouse droppings, bird nests, termite damage, improperly sealed crawlspace access doors, negative drainage, etc. We are good at seeing things that the untrained eye may not see.
But what about the things you can't see? Like wall voids or inaccessible attics you may ask? No, I'm talking about things being described that"are"right in front of your face, blanketing the carpet, raining from the ceiling, maybe even emerging from your customer's skin. A typical encounter like this begins with a telephone call to your office where a customer describes a small insect that is causing them some skin irritations. Perhaps some of them sound like common enough parasites, bed bugs, fleas, or foul mites. But just as you are narrowing down a diagnosis, they throw you a curve ball such as "I've been fighting them for 8 months and I have coated every surface of my home with Sevin dust", or "I can see them emerging from the peanut butter, some are small, and some are long like worms they started by boring through the plaster in my ceilings, and now they are boring into my skin to lay eggs." Sometimes the individual will tell you how other members of their family don't see the pests and may even call the affected individual "crazy". I could go on and on about the symptoms and circumstances surrounding these experiences, but we will have to save that for the next time we do dinner and drinks.
What I described above is a condition called Delusory Parasitosis.
If you want to delve into a more scientific than anecdotal review of DP, I recommend a book called "The infested mind, Why humans fear, loathe, and love insects" by Jeffrey A. Lockwood. Chapter 6, "The Terrible Trio: Imagining insects into our lives" addresses DP, group hysteria, and Illusory Parasitosis.Illusory parasitosis being a related disorder, where people interpret real sensations, such as itches and skin redness, as pest infestations that indeed do not exist. Delusory Parasitosis is a persistent belief, oftentimes with no evidence whatsoever that an infestation exists, and most likely is located on or in the body of the individual experiencing it. Confused enough?
The chapter addresses an interesting question. If you have a customer suffering from Delusory Parasitosis, who is most qualified to treat this individual? Their family practitioner?Dermatologist? Entomologist? Pest Control operator?Psychiatrist? Good arguments could be made that any or all of these might play a part in this individuals treatment, but the reality is that we all wish that the other one would do it, and are most likely just interested in distancing ourselves from the individual.
For our part though, let's cover some rules of engagement.
1. Never make an application without a proper specimen identification. Doing so sends the message that you do have the solution, you just haven't applied it in a correct manner or volume. You will have a customer for life.
2. Do put out glue monitors. Using detection tools even if you suspect that there are no pests present dignifies the individual on your first visit, and in some cases may find something that you didn't on your first inspection like springtails, clover mites, fleas, or carpet beetles.
3. If no pests are collected, be adamant about not making an unwarranted application. Pesticide labels have target organisms specified on them, therefore you need to have a target in mind before you apply. The label is the law.
4.Sometimes recommendations about the humidity level of the air or inquiring about any changes in laundry detergents shows that you are concerned for their well-being, and who knows, sometimes may make a difference.
5. At the end of the encounter the demeanor of the individual may dictate how you part ways. Some people will actually be receptive to the notion that what they are "experiencing" is not something that everyone else is experiencing. You might be sure to point out that certain physical health problems or dietary deficiencies might be contributing. That being said, some people get more impatient and belligerent when you don't give them an answer they want to hear. To those people it is best to simply tell them that you aren't capable of helping them and part ways.
Delusory Parasitosis is anything but simple, and there are no silver bullets. Accepting that when engaging with a customer who is experiencing it will make you more adaptive and hopefully helpful. Above all, remember that we are professionals whose job it is to help people, even when the problems are more psychological than pest related.
In late June I had the pleasure to sit in on the Urban Pest Management Conference planning meeting and I can tell you that we had some good exchanges on content and even formatting of certain presentations. I'm already looking forward to it.
Go out there and make a great summer in pest control!