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News Article - Bug Zappers

Don't Hang Bug Zapper Near Food

The electric zappers can spray bacteria or viruses six feet away, researchers say.

CHICAGO (AP) -- Researchers have some advice for folks gathering goodies for picnics this summer... zap that electric bug zapper to a remote corner of the yard.

James Urban, a microbiologist at Kansas State University, says zappers and food should be kept apart because while they are killing insects, the devices can spread bacteria or viruses up to six feet away.

"I think it means we should not use bug zappers in certain areas," Urban said yesterday. "It shouldn't be hanging above the condiment tray at your picnic. You might be careful having a bug zapper in areas where small children's toys might be."

The devices use light to attract pests to an electrified metal grid and then electrocute them with a sizzling sound of snap, crackle and pop.

Urban presented the unpublished findings to the American Society for Microbiology on Wednesday. He and Alberto Broce, an entomologist at Kansas State, gave specific doses of microorganisms.' They found that a zapper could be expected to spread one of every 4,000 viruses or bacteria that were on a fly.

"I don't want to be an alarmist," Urban said. "Everything we touch has bacteria on it, and we obviously are surviving. "Is this going to push us over the edge and make us sick? I don't think it's as risky as unsafe sex or something like that," he said.

The researchers began the work about three years ago and plan more experiments this summer. It isn't the first time scientists have zinged the zappers. In a 1994 study, a group found that only a tiny fraction of the six-legged victims of the traps were bugs that bite people. Many of the insects that were killed were the types that provide needed food for fish and birds, while others were beneficial bugs that attack other, more annoying insects, they found.

The Providence Journal
June 4, 1999

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