Petless family forced to flee mysterious flea invasion
Jeanne Sokolowski was watching television in her home around midnight last week when she had some minuscule intruders. "I looked at the...
Newhouse News Service
CICERO, N.Y. — Jeanne Sokolowski was watching television in her home around midnight last week when she had some minuscule intruders.
"I looked at the window and, all of a sudden, these bugs were all over the windows and were coming into the house. There were thousands of them," she said. "It was like a horror movie. It was unbelievable."
Hordes of fleas infested the Sokolowskis' home after a heavy rainfall, coming into the white ranch house through gaps in the windows, she said. She and her husband, Bill, immediately started scrubbing walls and windows and vacuuming their wall-to-wall carpeting.
"We would vacuum and, all of a sudden, there were more. ... And each of them can lay hundreds of eggs, and they're down in the fibers and we can't see them," she said. "Our home is uninhabitable."
Jeanne Sokolowski received several flea bites that left her with itchy red spots on her neck, wrists and legs. Bill received a few bites on his legs, she said.
Now, the couple asks visitors to spray their feet on their way out of the house with the can of Lysol she leaves by the front door. A self-proclaimed compulsive cleaner, Jeanne has also been using hand sanitizer like mad.
Jeanne Sokolowski and the couple's 4-year-old son, William, are staying with friends in Liverpool, while Bill is staying with his mother in North Syracuse. Every day, the Sokolowskis return to their home of seven years to sort out the possessions and decide which they can keep and which must be thrown away.
Bill, a Syracuse school band teacher, ripped up all the carpeting and moved it and three mattresses into a Dumpster in the driveway. The sofas will have to be discarded as well, Jeanne said, and the couple spent a day throwing away everything in their pantry and cupboards that didn't come in a can.
"This is our whole life," she said. "This is everything we worked for. I'm not sure what we'll do."
Most of the wood furniture was salvaged, she said, and most things that could be machine-washed were saved as well. After a wash cycle, however, the washer must be checked for fleas, she said.
Jeanne Sokolowski said she hopes to move back into the house next week because William, who will begin kindergarten, has autism and cannot stay too long in an unfamiliar environment. But the cleanup is taking much longer than anticipated, she said, and she is hoping to gather some friends together this weekend to help out.
All the home damage repair costs will come from the Sokolowskis' savings, since their homeowners insurance does not cover insects, she said. Jeanne said she also had no luck asking the town of Cicero to lower their home's assessed value for this year.
An exterminator will return in about two weeks, after which the house will need to be treated every three months.
Lisa Letteney, spokeswoman for the Onondaga County Health Department, said the staff has not heard of so severe a flea infestation that a homeowner has to replace carpets and furniture. She has also not heard of a flea infestation in a home without animals; the Sokolowskis have no pets.
Carolyn Klass, senior extension associate in Cornell University's entomology department, said fleas feed on dead skin and hair cells and feces from animals, and they need an animal host to survive.
Flea problems typically occur when pets are absent for long periods of time, such as when a family goes on vacation and kennels their animals. When the family returns, the starving fleas emerge for a quick meal, biting pets and humans, Klass said.
Sometimes, fleas may be driven inside a house during prolonged periods of rain or wet weather, she said. She said, however, flea infestations are not common in northern New York, especially in a home without pets; they are more common in the South, where the weather is warmer and more humid year-round.
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