Household pests can be a nuisance as they creep and crawl through your home, but that's not the only reason you should be concerned. Pests that frequent homes can also pose significant health risks to you and your family. Many pests are disease vectors (any living organism that carries and transmits an infectious pathogen to another living organism). According to a study conducted by North Carolina University, there are more than 500 types of arthropods (like centipedes, mites, insects and spiders) commonly found in U.S. homes. You aren't likely sharing your home with all of them, but on average you can expect to find about 100 different species living in your home. While most of them do not pose serious health risks, some do. Learning about how pests can affect human health is important to maintaining a healthy and happy household.
Which Pests Pose Threats to Human Health?
The primary pests posing threats to human health are vector insects and rodents. Both carry diseases that can infect you and your family via bites or from their excrement.
- Insects: Insects like bed bugs and cockroaches pose a health risk in a variety of ways.
- Their fecal matter and shed skins often become airborne causing allergic reactions and triggering asthma attacks or other respiratory difficulties.
- Their bodies carry bacteria, such as salmonella and E.coli that can contaminate household surfaces.
- Some insects, like mosquitoes, carry infectious diseases and can infect you when they bite you. Mosquitoes can carry dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever, says AAFP.
- Insects like bed bugs do not typically transmit diseases via their bite but do cause itching and discomfort. Scratching the bites from bed bugs can lead to rashes and secondary skin infections.
- Rodents: Rodents like mice and rats are common in many areas, but rodents also include squirrels and chipmunks. They pose a health risk to humans in several ways.
- Rodents dribble urine and drop fecal matter as they scurry through your home, which means they leave a trail behind wherever they roam. Urine and feces may contain harmful bacteria such as salmonella, E. Coli and Lyme disease.
- Rodents often seek out food sources and can contaminate your food.
- Rodents can carry rabies posing a risk if they bite you.
- Rodents also cause damage to your home by chewing through wood, insulation or other household materials. They are known to chew through electrical wires and may pose a risk of fires.
Effects of Pests on Human Health
The effects of pests on human health varies in severity depending on the overall health of the humans involved and whether the pests are carrying vector diseases. While most illnesses from household pests will be mild to moderate, they can be severe and life-threatening.
- People with pre-existing respiratory illnesses, such as asthma or COPD, are more likely to react to airborne particles from household pests. This may cause severe breathing difficulties. For the average person, the airborne particles may cause mild to moderate allergy symptoms, like watery or itchy eyes, a runny nose and sneezing.
- Those with a suppressed immune system, young children and the elderly may be more likely to be affected by bacteria and viruses carried by household pests, but anyone can suffer illness from contaminated food or food surfaces.
How Do You Minimize the Effects of Pests on Human Health?
If you have a pest problem in your home, you can minimize the health risks by getting rid of the pests and cleaning and disinfecting your home. Here's what you will need to do.
- Seal entrances: This often includes identifying and sealing cracks around windows, doors and the foundation of your home. In the case of rodents, this may include checking the soffits and sealing them if necessary and blocking access to all outside vents.
- Set traps for rodents: Your options range from using snap traps that kill rodents when captured to live traps that allow you to catch and release the offending rodents into the wild.
- Use traps or bait for insect pests: There is a wide range of products available from chemical pesticides and insecticides to natural products. Most will do the trick if your infestation is mild to moderate.
- Clean and disinfect: Once you have eradicated the offending pests and sealed their entrances to your home, it is time to clean and disinfect all surfaces they may have contacted. This includes counters, cupboards, floors and areas under appliances. Discard all contaminated food products.
The best way to get rid of a severe infestation of household pests is often to hire an exterminator to do it for you. Exterminators are trained to detect hiding places and assess the severity of your pest infestation. Many provide a guarantee for their work and will return to correct the issue free of charge if you find signs of reinfestation.