Rats and mice – two of the most common household rodents – are “commensal” animals, meaning that they live in close proximity to humans. They are adapted to living around houses, sewers, food storage facilities and kitchens.
However, rodent infestations are not just potentially annoying or hazardous to a home’s electrical wires, pipes and insulation. Rodents carry a range of diseases that can be passed directly to humans, which should make rodent proofing a top priority for homeowners.
Some viruses or bacterial infections are transmitted from rodents to humans through direct physical contact. These can be passed through physical contact with the animal or through infected fluids like blood, saliva or urine. A few of the diseases that occur in the United States include:
- Leptospirosis, a bacteria typically spread by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated with the urine of infected rodents. Leptospirosis can also be spread if a person’s mucous membranes come in contact with contaminated water or soil. It can cause a variety of symptoms such as high fever, headaches, chills and body aches, among others. Because of the vague symptoms, it can be mistaken other diseases. In addition, some people may not exhibit any symptoms of the disease. If untreated, Leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, liver failure, meningitis or respiratory distress. In some cases, it can even be fatal.
- Lymphocytic Chorio-meningitis (LCM), a virus spread by breathing in dust that is contaminated with rodent urine or droppings. LCM is primarily spread by the common “house mouse,” Mus musculus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 5 percent house mice throughout the United States carry LCM and are can possibly transmit the virus. The disease can be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, as it’s been linked with congenital hydrocephalus, chorioretinitis, mental retardation or fetal death. LCM is usually not fatal for children and adults, but it does cause a variety of flu-like symptoms, including fever, muscle aches and vomiting.
- Rat-Bite Fever, a bacteria spread by bites or scratches from an infected rodent, or through contact with a dead rodent. The disease can also be spread by eating food or drinking water that is contaminated with infected feces. Symptoms can occur anywhere from three to 10 days after exposure, but can show up as late as three weeks afterward. The later the symptoms occur, the more difficult it can be to diagnose the diseases because any associated bites or scratch wounds will have healed. Antibiotics are a highly effective cure, but without treatment, rat-bite fever can be fatal.
- Salmonellosis, a bacterial infection that can cause diarrheal illness. Although most often associated with poultry, salmonella bacteria can also be spread by food or drink that is contaminated with rat feces.
In order to prevent the spread of these and other diseases, homeowners should take certain precautions when rodent proofing their homes. Sealing all trash in closed, metal cans will make it more difficult for rodents to feast on any refuse. In addition, it’s a good idea to keep clutter in yards and garages to a minimum – disorder brings rodents closer to the home by providing a hideaway for them.
Homeowners should also make sure to patch up any holes in siding, or around the foundation and pipes. Rats can fit through openings the size of a quarter, while mice only need a space as large as a dime. Pay special attention to gaps and holes around pipes. Leaks can widen any holes and create entranceways.
If problems persist, it’s always a good idea to call in a professional. Rodent proofing isn’t just a matter of a comfort – it can also be a matter of health.