The summer months may be when rodents spend most time outside, but it's also the time to start preparing for that post-harvest rush when the temperatures begin to drop - and rodents make their way back inside in great numbers.
A large rodent outbreak on a farm can have a devastating effect in several ways, from food loss and structural damage to contamination. While food loss can be costly, it pales compared to what can happen if a severe disease sweeps through a farm.
Diseases Spread Directly by Rodents
One of the most common diseases rodents spread is salmonella, which can cause illness in humans and other animals. While we often hear about salmonella in connection with outbreaks linked to restaurants, humans can come into contact with it in numerous ways.
Infection occurs when rodent faeces contaminates food or water, and symptoms, including diarrhoea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting, can appear within 12 to 72 hours after infection.
Most people recover after a few days, but if a particularly nasty strain, either typhoid or typhoid fever, occurs, it can lead to severe infection that attacks the blood and vital organs.
Once infected, the disease can spread rapidly, so the NHS advises cleaning anything a suspected rodent might have touched, including toilets, handles, taps, sinks, and just about anything else, just to be sure. Use hot water and detergent the first time around, followed by a second round using a household disinfectant.
While Hantavirus is much less prevalent in the UK than in some other European countries, it's certainly something to be aware of. Various rodents, including rats, mice, and voles, can carry Hantavirus, and humans can catch it through contact with rodent urine, faeces or saliva, touch, contaminated food, and even from breathing in aerosolised particles.
Symptoms are similar to the flu but can escalate quickly. Across the world, Hantavirus cases usually carry a 30% mortality rate, meaning this is one of the most serious diseases to remember.
Leptospirosis, also called Weil's disease in the most serious cases, is another disease less prominent in the UK but is spread through the urine of infected animals, such as rodents, cows, pigs, and dogs. People can become infected if soil or freshwater containing the disease gets in their mouth, eyes, or a cut, but it can also transfer through touching the flesh or blood of an infected person.
Leptospirosis has many possible symptoms and outcomes, ranging from a self-limiting febrile illness to fatal pulmonary haemorrhage and renal or liver failure. Initial symptoms appear between 7 and 14 after transmission and are usually similar to the common cold, with headaches, chills, nausea, and muscle pain all common.
While Leptospirosis typically favours the warmer, tropical climates that the UK rarely sees, several occupations, such as farmers, abattoir workers, and vets, put people at higher risk.
Diseases Spread Indirectly by Rodents
If there's one disease that sends a shiver down the spine simply from hearing the name, it is the plague. Throughout history, plague outbreaks have decimated human populations. While the number of plague deaths has plummeted over the last couple of hundred years, between 1,000 and 2,000 still typically die from plague each year worldwide.
There are three types of plague; bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic. Modern medicine means that even those infected have a high chance of recovery, but untreated patients with bubonic plague have a 50% chance of dying. In comparison, a pneumonic plague has a terrifying 100% mortality if left untreated.
History tells us that rodents often carry the plague after being infected by fleas, but in reality, many animals, including cats and dogs, can carry the disease in this way. However, it can also transmit by touching infected animals and even airborne particles once the disease has infected the lungs.
Tularemia is another disease that spreads through fleas and ticks - which piggyback onto unsuspecting rodents - as well as mosquitoes and biting flies.
The disease enters the human body through the mouth, eyes, skin, throat, or lungs. This typically occurs through one of a series of possibilities, including contact with infected pets, inhaling contaminated dust or aerosols, contaminated food and water, or handling infected wild animals or meat.
The good news is that there has not been a single recorded case of human-to-human transmission. Still, the bad news is that, due to the tiny number of bacteria needed to cause an infection, Tularemia is one of the most infectious diseases known today.
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While some of the information included here might be enough to put fear into most readers, it's not all doom and gloom laced with apocalyptical outbreaks. Thankfully, the technology around rodent control has come on dramatically in the last fifty years, meaning we need to worry about the kinds of diseases mentioned above much less than in the past.
However, humans have not completely eradicated these diseases. Farms still need to take the initiative and put serious rodent control systems in place while monitoring the situation for any signs of a possible outbreak. Head to Dalton Engineering for the most comprehensive rodent control methods on the market for everything needed to keep that rodent problem at bay.