|The deer mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a primary reservoir for Hantavirus in the United States.|
Faced with a rodent control job, pest management professionals (PMPs) may find themselves on all fours in a crawlspace, an area that rats and mice often like to call home. It’s important to remember some precautions to ensure you’re not unintentionally bringing home an infectious disease.
In June, The Salt Lake Tribune reported two Hantavirus deaths in Utah. Hantavirus — a virus that can lead to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) — is often carried by rodents, particularly the deer mouse, cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a primary reservoir for Hantavirus in the U.S.
The virus is spread through rodent droppings, urine and saliva, and is transmitted to humans when the virus is stirred into the air, according to the CDC. Though HPS is considered rare, it has a 38 percent mortality rate, and PMPs can be at risk of exposure when entering rodent-infested areas. Early symptoms of HPS can develop one to five weeks after exposure to fresh rodent waste, and include fatigue, fever and muscle aches — these can develop into fluid in the lungs and shortness of breath at a later stage.
Scott Robbins, technical director, Action Pest Control, Evansville, Ind., said there are many precautions PMPs can take while on the job to ensure they’re doing everything possible to protect themselves from disease.
And though Hantavirus is primarily found west of the Mississippi, Robbins advises that a PMP can never be too careful when dealing with such potential health risks.
“Here in Indiana, there are not a lot of cases [of HPS] reported, but entering a confined, closed environment with the potential of rodent activity like a crawlspace or attic, you assume the worst,” Robbins said. “[Imagine] those mouse droppings you’re seeing are contaminated — it’s best to avoid exposing yourself. There are few cases here in the Midwest but it’s still something to be aware of. You don’t want to be that unfortunate one statistic that bumps up your state’s ranking.”
Protective Gear. Robbins recommends PMPs outfit themselves with protective gear to avoid coming in contact with rodent droppings. Respirators, disposable gloves and coveralls can protect the PMP from potential infection.
For gloves, in an ideal scenario, Robbins recommends using disposable ones, or dedicating a pair of gloves for crawlspace use and storing them in an air-tight area when not in use. Robbins said PMPs often bring their gloves into the cab of a service truck, where in turn, dust and debris can be potentially sucked into the air conditioning unit, and the entire cab can become contaminated.
Robbins also suggested maintaining air-tight storage areas for protective clothing dedicated for use in crawlspaces or attics.
Clean Up. Often a PMP will be taking more than just themselves into a crawlspace — notepads, electronic equipment, and other materials should be accounted for when working inside a crawlspace. Making sure those things are disinfected is important.
“If I’m going into a crawlspace and my flashlight is getting dirty, I’m in there with some other inspection tools, they’re getting dirty as well. What am I doing to sterilize them to take them into my next account?” Robbins said, noting that handheld data devices used for customer information or a variety of other items should be wiped down with simple disinfectant cloths after emerging from a crawlspace.
“[After] handwriting notes in a crawlspace, don’t use the same notepad and then carry it into the living space of the house,” Robbins said. “Keep a dedicated notepad for the crawlspace.”
Another precaution PMPs, or any professional dealing with wildlife, can take is to carry a special medical wallet card made available by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) that indicates its carrier deals with wildlife. Robbins credited consultant Jeff McGovern for this suggestion. The card, available for free in a .pdf form on the USGS website, reads: “ATTN: Medical Personnel, this person works with wildlife and may have been exposed to certain zoonotic diseases not routinely considered in the differential diagnoses of febrile illnesses.” The card goes on to list a number of other animal-borne diseases, including Hantavirus.
The author is associate editor of PCT magazine and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.