The health cost of pest infestations

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Serious pest infestations can ruin stored food products, destroy buildings and harm a business’ reputation. But there are other serious costs and consequences that are often less obvious: the significant health risks associated with pest problems, writes the team at Flick Anticimex.

Health risk 1 – rodents

Rodent activity can quickly become a serious problem, causing great financial and potentially health risks. Research has shown that globally rodents eat and spoil enough food to feed 280 million people in developing countries for a year. It is estimated between one-fifth to one-third of the world’s food supplies never reaches the mouths of consumers.

Rats and mice are omnivorous, devouring all types of food and food-based products. They require water to survive, but they can obtain this from the most unlikely sources, such
as condensation from machinery and service pipes, air- conditioning outlets and water pooling in drain traps.

A family of 10 rats will produce 146,000 droppings and 54 litres of urine in one year.
Rodents are carriers and transmitters of many life- threatening diseases affecting humans, including bubonic plague, typhus, rat bite fever, salmonella and trichinosis.

They can also chew through electrical wires, and are a common cause of fires.

“The safest and most effective way to prevent or control
a rodent problem is via an integrated approach, which often includes a baiting program,” says Gary Stephenson, national pest technical manager at Flick Anticimex. “Bait is fixed inside tamper-proof bait stations, which are in turn secured in place.

“It’s important that the bait is secure inside the stations, so the rodents cannot take the bait away and deposit it where it’s not wanted. This is particularly critical in food handling facilities as it reduces the risk of food contamination.

“Rodent bait stations should be strategically positioned depending on the individual site layout, building design, local environment, type of business and, of course, the extent and degree of rodent activity,” Stephenson says. “The stations may also contain other monitoring or control devices such as live catch traps, snap traps, glue traps and monitoring-only formulations.”

Health risk 2 – pigeons and other pest birds

Pest birds, such as pigeons, starlings, mynas and sparrows, can create significant problems for factories, shopping centres, restaurants, property managers and warehousing complexes.

Left uncontrolled, birds can nest and soil building façades, which can result in extensive internal and external damage, plus a residual problem relating to bird mites that requires additional treatment.

But pest birds can present more than just a nuisance problem to facility managers: birds and their droppings can carry more than 60 pathogenic diseases that can invade
and infect humans. Some of these diseases – which include histoplasmosis, aspergillosis and cryptococcosis – can be fatal.

“Bird problems can also cause safety issues,” Stephenson says. “There have actually been reports of bridges collapsing due to bird droppings. If the bird excrement isn’t cleaned away, it dries into a concentrated salt. When moisture
or humidity combines with the salt and ammonia, it
creates small electrochemical reactions that rust the steel superstructure underneath.”

There are a variety of methods and technologies to assist with feral bird control, including bird spikes, trapping, physical and visual deterrents, and netting. Effective prevention and control requires a combination of pest management techniques tailored to address the specific site and individual problem.

Health risk 3 – mosquitoes and flies

Mosquitoes are commonly regarded as the world’s most dangerous creature. They are the number one carrier of the lethal malaria virus, causing around 400 million cases of infection each year and one to two million deaths. About 85 percent of those are babies and children under the age of two.

Thankfully, Australia is currently malaria-free, but mosquitoes can carry other illnesses such as Ross River fever, the Barmah Forest virus and dengue fever.

Like mosquitoes, flies seem innocent, but can, in fact, carry a range of dangerous diseases including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, influenza, tuberculosis and tetanus.

Implementing an effective flying insect control program incorporating a Flying Insect Control Units (FICU) system will help minimise the potential health risks associated with mosquitoes and flies. FICUs are designed to attract and trap
a wide range of flying insects via several methods, including pheromones, kairomones, carbon dioxide and ultraviolet light.

A well-structured program can be the ideal solution for camp accommodation, hospitality venues, tourist attractions, mining sites, food processing, food preparation and food warehousing facilities.

Without effective, ongoing pest control, minor pest activity can quickly evolve into a widespread infestation that is
likely to cause health problems. Implementing regular pest inspections will help minimise this risk.

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