Hurricane Sandy created a Bonanza of food for Tri-State Rodents, Rodent Droppings Pose Lethal Health Threat During Cleanup
Pest Controllers Warn About Hantavirus Threat
“There is a real health threat for the tri-state area where rodents have been thriving on the tons of food that was thrown out as the result of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy,” warns Leonard Douglen, Executive Director of the New Jersey Pest Management Association. “Rodents thrive in such situations and their droppings—feces—can transmit hantavirus, a life-threatening virus.”
People can get hantavirus when they breath in dust that is contaminated with rodent droppings and there have been 587 cases of hantavirus in the U.S. since the disease was first identified in 1993. It shows up with initial flu-like symptoms in one to six weeks after exposure and there is no specific treatment for the virus.
“People who are working around accumulations of rodent droppings and urine,” says Douglen, “show wear gloves and avoid contact. A face mask should be worn to avoid inhaling the dust.” Douglen warned that “the natural response to vacuum up rodent droppings is the worst thing one can do because it will cause it to become airborne.”
Areas where rodent droppings are being cleaned should be first sprayed with a bleach solution (1 to 1 ½ cups of bleach in one gallon of water). People should wait fifteen minutes. The contaminated materials should be picked up with a wet towel and then double-bagged along with the cleaning materials. Then the area should be mopped or sponged with the bleach solution again.
“Even in areas unaffected by the hurricane, the phones at pest control firms all over New Jersey and the tri-state area are ringing with calls from homeowners and others who have discovered that mice and rats have moved in with them.”
“The change of seasons always brings with it a variety of pest control problems and autumn’s cooler temperatures cause rodents to seek warm harborage. Homes and all kinds of other structures are invaded, both for warmth and the prospect of food,” says Douglen. “Indeed, food service establishments need to be especially watchful and may require additional inspections and other procedures to eliminate rodents.”
Norway rats along with the common house mouse are the species that New Jerseyans encounter. Pest control professionals can spot evidence of their presence by inspecting for their droppings. In a cluttered garage or basement, a family of six mice can grow to 50-60 mice in only 90 days.
Norway rats are brownish-red in color while mice can range from black to dusty gray in color. Norway rats can range from 10 to 17 ounces and from 12 to 18 inches in length including their tails. Mice are generally 6 to 7 inches.
“The bad news about rodents is how swiftly they can multiply,” says Douglen. Norway rats reach maturity in 2-3 months, while mice can be reproducing in one month to a month and a half. After that, gestation for Norway rats is 22-23 days. Mice can reproduce after 19 days.
Litters for Norway rats range from six to twelve. Mice will have five to six young, but it is the number of litters that poses the real problem after they have moved in. Norway rats have between four and seven litters per year. Mice, however, can produce eight litters in a year’s time!
“This is why pest management firms work throughout the year,” says Douglen “because a single pair of rodents can reproduce swiftly even though they usually live about a year and a half.”
Rats do not necessarily have to be inside a home or other structure. They construct burrows anywhere from 90 to 450 feet away from a source of food and water. Mice can set up a nest almost anywhere, but must be within 10 to 30 feet of food and water.
“Rodents are nocturnal, usually feeding at night. If seen during the daytime, that is usually a sign of a large infestation,” says Douglen.
“Pest management firms and their technicians,” says Douglen, “are well schooled in the knowledge of where to look for signs of rodent infestations and have a variety of tools available to eliminate them. They are all licensed and certified by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.”
Founded in 1941, the New Jersey Pest Management Association is affiliated with the National Pest Management Association and maintains an informational website at NJPMA.com.