Ghosts, goblins and zombies may make terrifying Halloween outfits, but what about some more terrifyingly real things closer to our everyday lives – like pests?

While a handful of idealists dream of a chemical free world, the reality is that our society needs to reconnect with the fundamental reason we have pesticides: to protect our lives, families and food.

We Californians live in a state with some of the strictest limits on pesticides in the world. That why it is important to apply according to label instructions; when applied correctly, pesticides are safe and there have been no serious long-term adverse impacts to public health.

This stands in stark contrast to real problems – we have seen a growing number of fatalities and serious public health issues from pests, especially insects and rodents.

A far greater concern than banning pesticides is losing our ability to control pests. From a public health perspective, a world without pesticides would represent a colossal step backwards into the Dark Ages, when pestilence killed 75 million Europeans, more than twice the population of California. Even today, in Third World countries, malaria spread by mosquitos attacks more than a half-billion people and kills two million annually.

In the United States, we have seen an uptick in fatal diseases spread by pests – from West Nile and Zika viruses.

So if you are looking for a Halloween outfit based on real – not phantom – fears, here are some ideas:

  1. The Mosquito: Those pesky flying creatures are more than a just an annoying pain in the ear. They can carry and spread such fatal diseases as the Zika virus, malaria and West Nile virus.
  2. The Rat: To many folks, rats are among the most terrifying of all household pests. They will do anything to survive – including climbing into a baby’s crib to gnawing off that innocent little face. They also spread the Bubonic Plague, which killed millions of Europeans in the Middle Ages. But they remain a threat today in California, where cases of the black plague has been on the rise since 2015. But that’s not all, they also spread hantavirus and a growing danger – rat lungworm disease that unleashes a deadly parasitic worm that invades your brain. If you don’t want to be a rat this Halloween, you could also dress up as a slug or snail, which also can carry this parasite and spread it through various crops if they aren’t treated with pesticides.
  3. The Locust: Using the term locust very loosely, there are hundreds of pests in California that if left unchecked can wreak havoc on our food supply by destroying fresh fruit, nuts, leafy greens and pretty much all of our fresh produce. So if you love your farm-to-fork culture, you should be very afraid of these pests.
  4. The Cockroach: These furtive creatures are sinister in their ability to slither up drains and through cracks into your home, where they have a field day spreading disease and an environment that causes asthma, especially for little kids. As an aside, you don’t want these guys dining in the same restaurants you do.
  5. The Fire Ant: If you’ve ever been attacked by an army of fire ants, you don’t need any explanation. Once only found in southern states, fire ants moved to California in 1998. While their bites typically aren’t deadly, the secondary infections can. Nearly 5 million Americans suffer fire ant bites annually. Still not afraid? Consider this: all the ants in the world weigh more than all the people in the world.
  6. Black Widow Spiders: See that orange hourglass belly and run for your life, spray or squish her. You don’t play nice with Betty. Her venom is 14 times more potent than a rattlesnake.
  7. Bed Bugs: Nearly invisible, these tiny insects can be found everywhere from five-star hotels to your own bed. They also inhabit movie theaters, buses, libraries and public transit. Their bites won’t kill you, but they are guaranteed to creep you out big time.
  8. Termites: Wood-devouring insects, termites won’t go after you, but they definitely eat you out of your house and home. These little terminators are especially prevalent in Southern California, where they love to feast.
  9. Lice: Lice seem like low-brow problems until your kid comes home from school with a bad case of an itchy cranium. They are pain to get rid of and they are just plain gross.
  10. Weeds: Weeds aren’t insects or rodents. But weeds grow, well, like weeds, which on schoolyards and backyards create a safe place for all the vile insects and rodents to hang out and plot their attacks on humanity.

Ghosts, goblins and zombies are phantom monsters. A world overrun with insects and rats is something to be afraid of. Think about that this Halloween… and the rest of the year, for that matter.