Avoiding Health Threats from Household Pests

By Martin Overline

Common household pests can be more than just a nuisance. Many of them, including cockroaches, mosquitoes, mice and rats, can spread diseases. Considering these animals are often attracted to the least sanitary places in your home, it is hardly surprising that they can be dirty and pose significant dangers to your family.

In the case of an infestation, pests can spread extremely dangerous diseases. You do not have to physically come into contact with pests in order to catch diseases from them, as they can contaminate the air, surfaces, and also food.

Common Diseases Spread by Wildlife

Wild animals can carry a range of diseases which, if passed on to humans, can cause serious symptoms and even death. One of the most severe of diseases it is possible to catch from rats and mice is Leptospirosis, an infection that can be fatal.

Symptoms of Leptospirosis include:

• Headache
• Fever
• Muscle pain
• Bleeding lungs
• Meningitis

There are 13 different strains of Leptospirosis, one of which, Weil’s Disease, causes jaundice and kidney failure in patients. Treatment for Leptospirosis can involve strong antibiotics, dialysis, and special treatment for any organs affected, such as the lungs, heart, and liver.

Rats are also infamous for spreading the Bubonic Plague, although cases of this in the western world are extremely rare.

It is not just rats and mice that can spread dangerous diseases. Mosquitoes feed on human blood, and so can transmit infections from one person to another. They often carry malaria. Domestic cockroaches carry around 32 different types of bacteria, which can cause food poisoning, gangrene, diarrhea, leprosy, typhoid, pneumonia, and many other unpleasant and dangerous conditions.

Many of these diseases can be spread onto domestic pets. This means if your cat or dog was to come into contact with the pest, the bacteria could spread to them.

Seeing as you are likely to spend a lot of time in close contact with your pets, this increases your chance of catching diseases.

Allergic Reactions

Insects and rodents do not only pose health risks due to the illnesses that they can spread. There are other, sometimes chronic, health problems associated with household pests. Three out of five city dwellers with asthma have an allergy to cockroaches, making their symptoms more severe.

Wasps and hornets can also threaten people with allergies. While for many a wasp or hornet sting is simply an unpleasant and unwanted experience, half a million Americans have to attend the emergency room every year thanks to an encounter with a stinging bug. Flea and bed bug bites can be irritating and itchy, and some of these bites can get infected. Some people can have allergic reactions to these kinds of bites, ranging in severity from minor to severe.

Wildlife Disease Transmission Methods

Different animals can transmit the diseases they carry in different ways. It’s safe to say that none of them respect our standards of hygiene, so one of the biggest problems can be when they stray into food preparation or storage areas. Cockroaches, ants, mice, rats, and other household pests can all walk on work surfaces, kitchen tables, in cupboards, and other food areas. This spreads the bacteria that they carry, contaminating food and utensils.

Insects and rodents that bite can pass on bacteria through direct contact, especially mosquitoes who regularly break the skin. Rats and mice can bite, especially when they feel threatened or are defending their territory, again transmitting any bacteria they may be carrying.

Rat and mouse feces and urine are another problem, exposure to which can lead to significant health problems, including Hantavirus, which can eventually cause kidney failure. It is a rare condition, but a particularly dangerous one as the patient’s immune system is not prepared to counteract the virus.

Precautions to Take

If you see signs of an animal infestation, it is important to take extra precautions around the house. All work surfaces should be washed and disinfected, as should any food preparation utensils. Food should be checked for signs of tampering; you may be able to see bite marks or holes in storage containers. Also check cupboards, work surfaces, floors, and behind furniture for signs of animal droppings or nests.

If you find animal droppings, you should handle them carefully. Always wear protective gloves, place droppings in a secure bag, and wipe down the surrounding area with disinfectant or bleach. Any body part or item of clothing that came into contact with the droppings should be washed or disinfected immediately to ensure the removal of harmful, disease-causing bacteria.

Most household pests are attracted by food. If possible, keep all foodstuffs in sealed containers to minimize the smell and to prevent easy access. Food scraps should not be left lying around, and garbage bins should be kept closed at all times, and away from the property if possible.

Pests will enter through any crack or hole they can find, so it is worth inspecting your property, both inside and out, to find these gaps and seal them up with an appropriate filler material. Remember that rats have teeth which can gnaw through concrete, so holes that you suspect are made by rats will need to be more heavily plugged than those used by mice, ants, or cockroaches. Keep any windows and doors shut, or use screens if keeping them open for long periods of time.

Signs of an Infestation: What to Do

If you notice signs of an infestation you will need to call in an exterminator in order to remove the problem before it becomes too serious. With most types of household pests proving a health hazard, you and your family could be at risk if you leave an infestation to get worse. An exterminator will be able to assess the extent of the infestation, and choose the most suitable method of removing or exterminating the pests.