Did you know that rodents can carry and spread over 35 different diseases? Even if an individual does not come in direct contact with rodents, their presence in a home can bring disease and infection to its occupants! During winter, the cold weather that makes us want to snuggle up by the fire also pushes mice, rats and other rodents into homes and buildings. They are seeking shelter from the extreme cold in attics and spaces between walls and rooms that don't see a lot of traffic and activity. Since they are nocturnal, it can be easy for homeowners to miss their presence. That said, even if you do not know they are there, they have the potential to be harmful to the health of you and your family (this includes pets!).
How Do Rodents Spread Disease?
Rodents can spread disease both directly and indirectly. They directly spread diseases through contact with their waste (feces or urine), saliva as well as directly through bites. Rodents can indirectly spread diseases through the fleas, mites and ticks they bring into homes as well as via their dander and hair for those who are allergic. Even rodents, who are not infected with diseases, can cause harm to humans.
Mice and rats are always urinating; this is one of the main ways they spread diseases to humans. If an infected rodent urinates on something that is then handled by one of the members of the house, they can become infected without even knowing. Some diseases can even be passed from rodents to humans through aerosolized particles; this occurs when the virus molecules are small enough that they can be transmitted by breathing them in.
How Can Rodents Affect My Health?
Individuals who suffer from allergies to pets and other animals are often allergic to the hair and dander that rodents produce and shed in their day-to-day life. It rubs off when they are squeezing through small spaces, rubbing up against walls, etc. If they are inside vents and air ducts, this directly puts the allergen into the air you and your family breathe.
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)
Hantavirus is contracted by humans when they come into contact or breathe in particles of infected rodent urine or feces. Cases of HPS have been detected all over the United States, and the incubation period usually varies between one and four weeks. Early symptoms are very similar to the flu and include fever, fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, chills as well as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. As the disease progresses, symptoms can also include shortness of breath and other serious complications.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that spreads to humans when they drink water or eat food that has been contaminated by rodent urine. It can also occur if mucous membranes (for example, the nose) comes in contact with contaminated soil or water. Leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis and difficulty breathing, if left untreated.
Rat Bite Fever
As the name hints, rat bite fever occurs when individuals are bit or scratched by an infected rat or mouse. It can also develop if a person with an open cut or wound comes in direct contact with an infected rat or mouse, usually throwing away or disposing of a dead rodent. The last way this disease spreads is by eating or drinking contaminated foods or beverages. Symptoms include chills, fever, pain in the joints and rashes.
Salmonellosis, like most diseases directly spread by rats and mice, occurs in humans when they consume contaminated foods or drinks. It impacts approximately 40,000 Americans each year who experience diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramping within 12 to 72 hours of being infected. The symptoms often last four to seven days and will go away without treatment. In some cases, dehydration can be severe enough to need medical attention.
Lyme disease usually spreads to humans through ticks that are often carried by white-footed mice and tree squirrels. The bite leads to a bacterial infection which shows symptoms of fever, fatigue, headache and a unique rash. Lyme disease can have severe consequences for the heart and nervous system if left untreated.
Relapsing fever spreads to humans from infected ticks carried by wild rodents. Like most diseases spread by rodents the early symptoms are headache, muscle and joint ache, fever and nausea. Relapsing fever is more prevalent in rustic settings such as forest or mountain areas.
Don't let unwanted visitors endanger the health of your family!
This list is not all inclusive and just showcases the most common diseases contracted in the Midwest. Learn more about protecting your home from mice and other rodents in our previous article, Don't Share Your House With a Mouse. For more information on rodent infestations, contact Preferred Pest today!