Keep Halloween From Being a Horror

Trick-or-treaters will be out tonight for Halloween.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles asks motorists to stay alert, because even quiet neighborhoods may have increased pedestrian, bicycle and car traffic--and because excited children may be darting into the street as they try to visit as many houses as possible. They will need lots of time to cross the street because their costumes may keep them from seeing or hearing.

Parents are asked to make sure costumes are light-colored and clearly visible and don't get in the way of children's feet, eyes or ears. DMV officials recommend that costumes and candy bags be decorated with reflective tape. They also urge parents to escort children up one side of the street, then down the other, rather than allowing them to zigzag across the road.

In Leesburg, there is a special 10 p.m. curfew today for children 12 and younger. Teenagers 13 to 17 must adhere to the town's year-round midnight curfew.

Leesburg police said residents who welcome trick-or-treaters' visits should turn on a porch light. They urge parents to accompany children, and they underscore the DMV's recommendation that drivers slow down.

Beetles Bring Mess but Not Disease

They're back--those Japanese lady beetles that coat the warm outside walls of houses and find their way inside to window sills, floors, ceilings and light fixtures.

Andrew Gerachis, Loudoun County's horticulture agent for the Virginia Cooperative Extension, said the bugs--which are relatively new to the United States--carry no diseases and are no worse than nuisances.

They were brought to you by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which imported them to combat the pecan aphid in Louisiana--and in the summer, Gerachis said, it is a very helpful bug.

Unlike the more common ladybug beetles native to this country, however, the Japanese ladies seek out attics as days get shorter or temperatures get colder, rather than sticking to more usual spots such as hollow logs or cliff faces. But coming indoors is a fatal mistake, because warm temperatures and low humidity cause them to dry out and die quickly.

The small round beetles are often joined indoors by other pests such as the elm leaf beetle, the box elder bug and cluster flies.

Gerachis said the best way to control the bugs is to keep them out in the first place. He recommends conducting an energy audit of your house and sealing all cracks in windows and walls and under doors against heat loss, because those are the same openings the beetles use.

When they do get in, he said, there isn't much to do except vacuum them up--and dispose of the bag often. ("If you must spray," Gerachis said, "use an aerosol insecticide labeled for household insects and sweep up the dead beetles. Many people have tried using halogen lights trained onto a sticky board to trap and dispose of the beetles.")

For more information, call the extension office at 703-777-0373.

Meanwhile, Gerachis leaves you with this thought: If you think your lady beetle problem is bad, consider the woman in Oregon who found them a foot deep in her attic.

Take a Shot at Avoiding the Flu

The Virginia Department of Health recommends a flu shot as the best defense against the illness--especially for people older than 65 or anyone with a chronic disease or suppressed immune system. Department officials said those living with or caring for someone in those high-risk categories also should be immunized against influenza.

The flu spreads quickly, and for high-risk people--including those on chemotherapy or with diabetes, kidney disease, severe anemia, heart problems or pulmonary diseases--it can turn into bronchitis or pneumonia. In the United States last year, flu led to about 20,000 deaths.

Elizabeth Barrett, assistant state epidemiologist, said two prescription drugs--amantadine and rimantadine--have been found to help prevent Type A influenza or reduce the length and severity of symptoms. She said they have not been effective against Type B.

Another antiviral drug, zanamivir, has been approved for treatment--but not prevention--of types A and B, Barrett said.

"The flu shot is still the best preventive step an at-risk person can take, whether it is taken alone or in combination with the new antiviral drugs," she said.

The shots take as long as two weeks to become 70 percent to 90 percent effective in warding off flu, according to Barrett, who said the best time to get them is from early October through mid-November. But she said any time during the flu season is better than not at all for high-risk people.

Barrett said the flu shot, made from "killed viruses," cannot induce the flu. "A more likely scenario is that a person gets a flu shot after they've been exposed to [the flu], comes down with a case of the flu and blames the flu shot they got yesterday," she said.

She also said that last year's flu shot will not protect against this year's flu. The shot, which is covered by Medicare for enrolled older Americans, is available through doctor's offices or the local health department. In Loudoun, they are available at the Health Department on a walk-in basis; for information, see the Health and Self-Help Calendar on Page 26.

World Food Day Draws Donations

Loudoun Interfaith Relief Inc. announced that World Food Day 1999 brought in nearly 9,000 pounds of food and just less than $700. Teams of volunteers collected food Oct. 16 at supermarkets in Sterling, Ashburn, Leesburg and Purcellville.