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A Foul Smell and Tiny Little Flies
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Sewer flies....  I guess no one wants to tell her?

Dear Exterminator,
 
Thank you for taking your time to read questions and hopefully answering mine.  We live 20 miles north of Charleston SC.  We live in a 20 year old brick house.  Our problem has stumped exterminators and extension services for the past 13 years.  Here goes--in late February we begin to see small dark mud filled bugs with transparent wings flying in our bathrooms and the bedrooms adjacent to the baths.  They land and are easily killed with a swatter or newspaper and leave behind a powered black stained residue, mud-like therefore we call them the mud-flys.  We stuff our drains with cloth soaked in bleach and try to remember to keep the toilet cover down at all times (this causes  problems during the night, if you know what I mean).  We seem to be infested until around July.  Just prior to their arrival we seem to notice a foul smell in the house kind of like fish/sewerish.  At first we had our exterminator come thinking they were termites.  He said he didn't know what they were and we had our drains smoked by the local sewage guys but to no avail.  Can you make suggestions?  We are ready for your opinion.  My main concern is their harmful disease carrying bug stuff.  Seems like when ever they come we all get sick with some kind of flu.  Of course it could be coincidence since they arrive during the flu season. Adios for now, please write soon.  

G.S. in Goose Creek,SC



And I wrote back with....

Hi, Ginny - or is it Gordon?

On to your question.  It kind of sounds like sewer flies to me.   They are very small, clumsy fliers, and are usually found near water and especially sewage.  This can just be the slime that accumulates in your drains, (sounds great, eh?) they really don't need much.   Commercial kitches experience them in drains and pipes that aren't used enough.  Sewer flies, if that's what they are, are not serious vectors for diseases.  Naturally, they contact dirty surfaces, and may transmit disease germs by casual contact, but you're far more worried about a housefly than a sewer fly.

Over the Internet I can't be sure of what they are, of course, but before you do ANYTHING, these little fellows have to be identified.  Once you know WHAT they are, you'll have a better idea on how to handle them.  Ethically, an exterminator shouldn't treat without identifying the target, otherwise he's just shooting in the dark - not a good thing to do.

Take several samples to your local university, or, perhaps, to a high school biology teacher and get a positive identification.  Actually, an experienced exterminator ought to be able to identify sewer flies from ten feet away!  I would think a county extension agent could also.  I think all the ones I know around here could.  And, if they can't, they always have someone to send it to who can.  Hell, this is what we pay taxes for!

If you have a crawl space you might have a look in there.  You could have a small leak in a sewer line causing the problem.  We sometimes discover this in the crawl spaces that we enter.  Sometimes it is only noticeable in the crawl, and the people haven't seen any inside.  Has a (reputable) plumber checked all the sewer lines?  Have YOU checked?

If you have a crawl, place a tray of soapy water under a 100 watt bulb rigged up in the crawl space.  See what kind of bugs accumulate in the soapy water over a couple of weeks.

If you have an exterminator, ask for the owner - or the most experienced technician.  Sometimes the public only sees the troops, and sometimes the General is needed.

Hope this helps.  Get back to me if you have more questions!

----john



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