The short answer is yes! Absolutely! Rodents can pose all types of threats to both humans and pets in your home. Rodents can cause structural damage by gnawing through insulation, drywall, cardboard, and even wood. They also love to chew through electrical wiring, contributing to 25% of all house fires in the United States. They crawl across countertops and contaminate food and water in the home. They can contribute to allergies and asthma. In fact, a recent study showed that 35% of homes had mouse urine levels high enough to trigger allergies. Mouse droppings are also known to cause as many cases of allergies in the US as mold and dust do. It also causes asthma in kids and adults.
Rodents also host parasites that carry diseases that are a serious health risk to humans. These can be spread to humans through a variety of methods – direct handling of rodents, contact with feces, urine or saliva, rodent bites, and flea, tick and mite bites that have fed on an infected rodent. In fact, rats and mice are proven to carry more than 35 diseases. Here are 4 of the most common rodent-borne diseases, as well as some tips for rodent-proofing your home.
Hantavirus is a viral disease that is carried by deer mice, white footed mice, cotton rats, and rice rats. It is primarily found in the western US. Hantavirus is rare but can be serious and unpredictable. This virus is transmitted through fresh urine, feces, or nests that are stirred up and become airborne. The virus is then breathed in by humans. It can also be spread through bites by infected rodents. It is suspected but not confirmed that Hantavirus can also be spread by eating food contaminated with urine, droppings, or saliva.
Symptoms of Hantavirus develop 1 to 5 weeks after exposure. Early symptoms include fever, fatigue, muscle aches, headache, dizziness, chills, and gastrointestinal complaints. Late symptoms appear 4 to 10 days after the initial symptoms and include coughing, shortness of breath and respiratory distress. If untreated, it can progress to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, a severe respiratory disease that can be fatal. Hantavirus has a 38% mortality rate. There is no treatment, cure, or vaccine for this virus so rodent control and prevention is critical.
Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (LCM)
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) is a viral disease caused by the LCM virus. It is primarily carried by house mice with an estimated 5% of all house mice in the US carrying the virus and able to spread it. Other rodents like hamsters and gerbils are not natural carriers but can become infected by wild mice. This virus is transmitted by exposure to fresh urine, feces, saliva, or nesting material from infected rodents. It can also be spread by rodent bites. LCM is more common in the colder months when these mice come indoors for heat. LCM can only be spread person-to-person by a mother to a fetus or through organ transplantation.
There are two phases to LCM symptoms. The first phase includes non-specific flu-like symptoms like fever, chills, malaise, fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches, headache, nausea, and vomiting. The second phase progresses to neurological symptoms of meningitis, encephalitis, or meningoencephalitis. LCM is not usually fatal with a less than 1% mortality rate but can require hospitalization if it progresses to the neurological phase. There is also a risk of temporary or permanent neurological damage. There is no vaccine for LCM so rodent prevention and control is essential to preventing it.
Plague is infamous for killing millions of Europeans in the Middle Ages. It is a bacterial disease caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium. It is usually transmitted by the bite of an infected flea or by handling an infected animal. It can also be spread by contact with contaminated fluid or tissue such as hunters butchering infected animals. There are still some occurrences in the United States, mostly in rural areas out west. In fact, a squirrel in Colorado tested positive for the plague just last month.
There are different types of plague that can be rodent-borne:
- Bubonic plague is characterized by the onset of fever, headache, chills, weakness, and 1 or more swollen, painful lymph nodes. These symptoms usually appear 2 to 6 days after exposure.
- Septicemic plague is characterized by life threatening septic shock with fever, chills, weakness, abdominal pain, shock, and bleeding. This can develop on its own or from untreated bubonic plague.
- Pneumonic plague develops after a person breathes in droplets containing the bacteria. This version is accompanied by fever, headache, weakness, shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, and a rapidly developing pneumonia. It can cause respiratory failure and shock. This is the most serious form of the plague and the only form that can spread from person to person.
Plague is a serious illness but can be treated with antibiotics if it is caught early. It can be fatal if not treated promptly.
Tularemia is a bacterial illness caused by Francisella tularensis. Rodents, rabbits, and hares are especially susceptible to this bacteria. Humans can be infected by tick bites, deer fly bites, skin contact with an infected animal, drinking contaminated water, lab exposure, and inhalation of contaminated dust or aerosols. Tularemia is found in all states except Hawaii.
The signs and symptoms of tularemia vary depending on how the bacteria enters your body. All forms are accompanied by a fever.
- Ulceroglandular is the most common form and is transmitted by tick or deer fly bites or handling an infected animal. This form is characterized by a skin ulcer that appears where the bacteria entered the body and is accompanied by swelling of the lymph nodes near the area.
- Glandular is similar to ulceroglandular but without the skin ulcer. It is also transmitted by tick or deer fly bites or handling infected animals.
- Oculoglandular occurs when bacteria enters through the eye. This happens when airborne particles enter the eye or a person handles an infected animal and then touches their eye. Symptoms include irritation and inflammation of the eye and swelling of the glands in front of the ear.
- Oropharyngeal occurs when contaminated food or water is eaten or drank. It is accompanied by sore throat, mouth ulcers, tonsillitis, and swollen neck glands.
- Oneumonic infection is the most serious form of tularemia. It is transmitted by breathing in dusts or aerosols contaminated with the bacteria. It can also occur when other forms of tularemia are left untreated and the bacteria spreads to the lungs. Symptoms include cough, chest pain, and difficulty breathing.
Regardless of the type of rodent, the most important way to keep your family safe is to keep them out of your home. Here are 10 rodent prevention tips you can use at home:
- Use door sweeps or weatherstripping on all exterior doors.
- Repair or replace any damaged window and door screens.
- Screen vents and chimneys.
- Seal any cracks or holes in the exterior of your home, especially around utility pipes.
- Store food in airtight containers.
- Empty the trash regularly.
- Keep the attic, basement and crawlspace well ventilated and dry.
- Eliminate moisture especially from leaky pipes and clogged gutters.
- Keep the grass mowed.
- Keep shrubs and branches trimmed away so they aren’t touching the house.
If you suspect you have a rodent problem, contact a professional pest control company for a thorough evaluation and treatment plan.