Of Rats and the Diseases they Bring

A deer mouse, the type speculated to have caused an HPS infection in the Yosemite National Park in California.(Photo credit: www.gnpc.org)

Disneyland may be the happiest place on Earth but it certainly won’t be with the thought of rats  and mice lurking in the area. Mickey Mouse and Stuart Little are cute and friendly but they don’t exist in real life.  If you don’t know it yet, rats and mice can actually cause problems such as:

Rats sometimes bite people and can kill small animals.

Rats and mice have an incredible survival ability and are so difficult to eliminate.

Rats can cause a lot of  damage. They can burrow into roots of plants or feed on new growth or twigs. They can also prey on garden vegetables like corn, lettuce and squash. They can gnaw into many materials such as papers, plastics, cinder blocks, soft metals like lead and aluminum, wiring, upholstery and wood, some of which they can even use as nest material.

They eat your food and can contaminate it with their urine and excrement.

A deer mouse, the type speculated to have caused an HPS infection in the Yosemite National Park in California.(Photo credit: www.gnpc.org)

Rats, or the parasites they carry, (such as fleas, mites and worms)can spread many diseases like:

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) is a disease transmitted by infected rodents. Although rare, HPS is potentially deadly. Humans can contract the virus by breathing in particles transmitted by their droppings, urine and saliva. Symptoms can show within one to six weeks after exposure. The disease is manifested by early symptoms like fever, vomiting, muscle aches, headaches, chills, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain and coughing and progresses rapidly rapidly to severe difficulty in breathing and, in some cases, death.

To this date, there is no specific treatment for the virus, and about one-third of people who contract it will die.

Rat-bite fever (RBF) is caused by Streptobacillus moniliformis or Spirillum minus which can be acquired from exposure or contact to the mouth, eye, nose, and excretions of an infected animal. The most common carriers of these virus are rats, but squirrels, gerbils and other carnivores that prey on them can also carry the disease.

Symptoms can include chills, fever, joint pain, redness and swelling, rashes, and open sores at the site of the bite.  The disease is highly treatable with antibiotics, but can lead to death when left untreated.

Murine Typhus is a form of typhus transmitted to humans by rat fleas. Compared to fleas that infect other animals, the rat fleas are more common modes of transmission. The infection can develop in rats, and infect fleas that prey on them. These fleas then can infect human by biting them, though most people who are infected are not aware that they have been bitten by fleas. Symptoms can include chills, fever, headache , vomiting, nausea and cough. Some of those who are infected will develop a rash over the course of their illness. Some can develop neurological symptoms such as confusion, stupor, seizure and imbalance.

The disease is treatable by antibiotics but death may occur in the elderly or patients who have a depressed immune system.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that affects humans and animals caused by the bacteria called spirochete. It can be transmitted by many animals such as rats, possums, skunks, raccoons, foxes, and other vermin. The urine and excrement of the infected animals can contaminate soil and water. People then contract the disease by contact or eating contaminated food or  by exposure of broken skin or mucous membrane (eyes, near, nose and mouth) to contaminated water.

The symptoms of leptospirosis can manifest in many symptoms, though some may experience no symptoms at all. Symptoms can include severe headaches, high fever, muscle aches,  chills, vomiting, and sometimes may cause jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or a rash. Untreated, the patient may develop  kidney damage, meningitis (inflammation of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), liver failure, and respiratory distress.  Severe cases can lead to death.

How do you know if your house is rat infested?  Check for freshly gnawed wood, gnawed books, paper or soft materials in your closet. Rats also give off a noticeable pungent smell. Look for droppings near your food storage such as your kitchen cupboards and countertops. Fresh droppings are moist, soft, shiny and dark, but in a few days become dry and hard. A variety in sizes may indicate an established colony with older and younger rats.

Dogs and cats are sensitive to the sound and smells of rats. Check if your pets frequently paws or sniffs at the wall or floor, especially near kitchens and storage areas. Seeing one is actually the best indicator. Rats are secretive and are usually out at night, so if you see one at daytime, that may mean that there’s probably enough to have forced one out.

How to rodent proof  your house

Exercise rodent control by sanitizing your residence. Store garbage in rodent-proof containers. Never leave trash bins uncovered. If you have pets, ensure that garbage cans have tight fitting lids so your pets or other wildlife can’t tip them. Clean up spilled or unconsumed food as soon as possible. Their food should not be exposed, as these may lead to  that rodents. Also, clean up pet excrement, as rats will eat it if they have to. Outdoors, do not scatter or leave food for wildlife consumption. Clean up fallen fruits or nuts from trees.

Avoid providing shelter to rodents by repairing crack or small holes in your house’s foundations. Repair broken windows, doors and broken sewers. Seal pipes and wire entrance to the building with sheet metal collars or concrete. Repair screen and cover foundation vents  with rodent proof materials.

If you have confirmed infestation, then do population control by using traps and poison baits. Most people though, would prefer traps because poison baits, when carelessly used, can harm children pets and non-target animals. Sick rodents may escape between walls or under floors where they can die and decompose. Place your traps and poison baits on places frequented by rodents, easily identified by gnaw marks, droppings, urine stains, burrows or grease smudges along walls.  Secure the traps and baits to avoid having them dragged around when a target is caught.

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