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Fleas invade Eagle Point elementary school

EAGLE POINT ' A dead cat under the building and overcrowded classrooms aren't the only factors contributing to the flea circus at Little Butte Elementary.

This year, we're taking a break from head lice and jumping on the flea train, joked Little Butte Principal Joni Parsons. We're trying to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing.

A repeat flea infestation is just one of many challenges facing staff and students at Little Butte.

The school year got off to a bumpy start in September after construction delays at the new Eagle Rock Elementary School and the closure of Glenn D. Hale forced the temporary transfer of 436 students to Little Butte.

— Little Butte already has 384 kids, bringing the student population there to 820. The completion date of Eagle Rock, which will alleviate overcrowding, is tentatively scheduled for. Nov. 1.

Before students and teachers could adjust to their cramped quarters, the occupants of Little Butte began to notice a rotting smell permeating the entire building.

It was horrible, admitted Parsons.

It was pretty gross, added third-grade teacher Carol Heisel. It didn't go away.

Superintendent Bill Feusahrens said a crew was sent in to locate the source of what could only be called a, dead animal smell.

After drilling a hole in a classroom floor, custodians found and removed the carcass of a cat that had apparently died under the building sometime during the summer.

There was just one dead cat, and that's been taken care of, added Feusahrens.

Even before the smell had dissipated, staff and students were coping with yet another problem ' lots and lots and lots of fleas.

A large population of fleas took up residence throughout the building. Only small portions of the building are carpeted, and only a few classrooms have rugs.

The district hired Spray Masters Inc. of Medford to take care of the problem, and so far the building has been sprayed three times and bombed once. A cost estimate was not available on Thursday, and attempts to contact staff at Spray Masters were unsuccessful on Thursday.

Parsons said the intensity of the flea population has apparently died down but added that the small, bloodthirsty insects continue to plague the building's occupants. She's hopeful that a treatment scheduled for today will take care of the problem once and for all.

We're just really surprised we can't nip this in the bud, she added. We're doing the best we can.

Despite earlier treatments, the tiny black insects are often spotted by students or staff as they hop off of an arm, leg or desk.

One teacher using a copy machine discovered she had copied the body of a flea onto every page of her students' assignments.

Several staff members and a handful of students have been bitten, said Parsons, but so far no students have reported infections.

Although students have been spared, an infected flea bite on the leg forced Heisel to visit a doctor last week. Thursday the 6-inch by 3-inch welt was almost completely healed, thanks to antibiotics, she added.

It's a hard year, noted Heisel, who teaches her class of 31 students inside the library. I've got a big classroom with no help, kids are crawling all over each other, and now the fleas.

Pet treatment advances reduce pest control calls

At one point, fleas may have been a plague visited upon Southern Oregon, but advances in pet treatments have greatly reduced the number of calls to local pest control companies.

Fleas used to be a major call, said Dennis Aslakson, owner of Southern Oregon Termite and Pest Control. Those calls are at a minimum now.

Pet owners now find that topical flea-control products such as Advantage or Frontline successfully keep pesky parasites at bay.

Several local pest control businesses on Thursday reported there has been no surge in calls regarding flea infestation, despite a recent outbreak at Little Butte Elementary School in Eagle Point.

Jackson County Vector Control hasn't identified any cases of flea infestation recently, a spokeswoman reported on Thursday.

Flea infestations typically surface as the weather grows warmer, noted Aslakson. Several local pest control agencies reported that calls for service take place in homes and most often involve pets.

Eradicating fleas can be difficult if the source hasn't been located and treated, added Aslakson. The pupa of a flea can live for up to eight months and its cocoon is impervious to insecticide.

Little Butte third-grade teacher Carol Heisel, center, teaches a science project in her class of 31 kids in the school?s former library. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell