Airborne Rat and Mice Vectored Diseases: Just in Time for Back to School!

David Bennett

It’s back to school time again, and this means we need to talk about rodent infestations in schools.  This is especially concerning as the weather cools and rodents begin to look for warm places to overwinter. The EPA notes in its Pest Control in the School Environment pamphlet that “Improperly managed pest problems and improper pesticide use can lead to health risks for children, given the significant time they spend in and around schools. Many schools have environmental conditions conducive to pest infestations. Reducing unnecessary exposures to pests and pesticides improves health and attendance and leads to greater academic achievement. Healthier school environments enable children to learn and produce more in the classroom, which ultimately leads to a more productive, higher quality life. Children face increased risks to their health when exposed to pests and over-use of pesticides. They may consume or come into contact with food and objects contaminated with diseases associated with rodent feces and urine; contract diseases spread by biting insects; suffer asthma when exposed to cockroach and rodent allergens; or be exposed to pesticides used improperly or unnecessarily.” Infestations in schools unfortunately does happen, and it’s important for schools to have

a pest control IPM program in place to prevent embarrassing closures and publicity, but most importantly, to protect vulnerable children from contracting rodent borne diseases that could make them sick or even kill them.   The EPA notes “Children are more likely to experience adverse health

effects than adults when exposed to rodent borne health risks due to their small body size in relation to the amount of contaminant or pathogen. For children with allergies, these airborne risks can be deadly. Not only are their brains and other organs still developing and more vulnerable, children’s hand-to-mouth and ground contact behaviors increase the likelihood that they will come into contact with pests, pathogens, and pesticides.” While the reasons for eliminating rodents in schools seems clear, let’s review from a prior article we wrote about the subject:

  •  In just one year a rat can shed more than half a million body hairs
  • A single mouse can produce up to 18,000 fecal droppings, over 70 times a day.
  • In that same year, a pair of rats can produce over 1,200 descendants.
  • Within three years, that can grow to half a billion descendants!
  • Rodents have been linked to asthma and transport fleas, lice, and ticks.


 The CDC also points out that they carry over 35 diseases that are transmitted from their feces and urine and can be airborne in dust.  As if this wasn’t bad enough, diseases

rats carry can also be transmitted by rat or mouse parasites like lice or fleas, as well as exposure to mouse hair, dander, droppings or other allergens. For instance, rat urine is responsible for the spread of leptospirosis, which can result in liver or kidney damage, or death, and can be contracted through inhalation of rodent feces or urine. Complications include renal and liver failure as well as cardiovascular problems.  Hantavirus, which is transmitted via exposure to fresh urine, feces (also dust containing fecal elements) has no cure, treatment or vaccine, and it can be fatal.  The disease can seem like the flu when it starts out.  Prompt treatment can help patients do better.  Rats and mice leave tiny trails of urine wherever they go, and it can be seen under fluorescent lighting.  If a rodent infestation is present, occupants of homes or schools are most likely dealing with rodent feces and urine exposure. Of course, bubonic plagueis transferred from rodents to humans via flea bites, and since you probably already know bubonic plague wiped out most of Europe in the Middle Ages, (the CDC has a great history of the plague here),we don’t need to tell you what a danger it poses to adults and children!   The most common irritant and possibly life-threatening allergy risk to children with severe allergies are again, feces, dander and hair from rodents.  It may not just irritate by causing one to sneeze—again, many airborne diseases from rodents may be contracted. Rat infestations are no joke. Salmonellosis is a disease that can be contracted by eating food or drinking water that is contaminated by rat feces bacteria.

 Lymphocytic choriomeningitis, or LCM, is a rodent borne viral infectious disease caused by LCMV, and its primary host the common house mouse. It is estimated 5 percent of house mice throughout the US carry LCMV.   Transmission of this disease can occur after exposure to fresh urine, droppings, saliva, or nesting materials from infected rodents.  Infections are more common in the colder months when mice enter homes seeking warmer winter habitats.    Infection can result in neurologic disease like meningitis, encephalitis, or meningoencephalitis (inflammation of the brain and meninges). Temporary or permanent neurological damage is possible.    

And that’s just the tip of the rodent disease iceberg!  

The EPA has very specific protocols for rodent control in schools.   IPM is mandated, and the EPA has an excellent website for implementing and training school employees in IPMincluding a certification course!  “EPA’s mandate for integrated pest management (IPM) in schools comes from basic federal law: “support the adoption of IPM,” which is stated in the U.S. Code at Title 5, Section 136r-1. The EPA mission to protect human health and the environment also contributes to this mandate. The Agency’s School IPM Strategic Plan describes the approach and overall activities to be undertaken to achieve the following mission, goals, and objectives. EPA is seeking to pave the path towards healthier schools by engaging national organizations with influence in the school community.  However, the EPA notes:

Regulations addressing pest management in, around and adjacent to schools vary greatly from state to state. Requirements in some states include:

  • Posting and notification of pesticide applications.
  • Specified re-entry periods before staff or students are permitted in treated areas.
  • Qualifications for applicators or pesticides in schools.
  • Pesticide product selection.
  • Adoption of IPM policies or plans.
  • Buffers between neighboring pesticide uses and schools.

School districts’ policies also vary widely, with the majority of districts having no formal policies that specifically address pest management practices and no designated IPM coordinator directing program implementation.   The EPA has a strategic plan for IPM . They have partnered with The IPM Institute of North America with the following aim in mind: “School IPM 2020 is a long-term collaborative initiative working to reduce pest problems and pesticide hazards in U.S. schools. We aim to educate school administrators, facility managers, maintenance, custodial and grounds staff, teachers, parents and anyone involved in improving environmental quality for children about the benefits of Integrated Pest Management, a low-risk discipline of proactive, preventative, common sense pest management. We seek to reduce pest problems and improve pest management practices in all of our nation’s schools. Please see herefor the latest version of the School IPM 2020 Pest Management Strategic Plan, our living roadmap to achieving high-level IPM in all US schools. We hold regular calls with the National School IPM Steering and Advisory Committeewhich is made up of two leaders from each of four regional school IPM working groups (Northeast,North Central, Southern, and Western) and steers the implementation of the School IPM 2020 Pest Management Strategic Planin the regions. Members of the regional working groups are representatives from each state within the region. The North Central School IPM Working Group has worked to increase IPM adoption in schools in the North-Central region since 2008. Find out who the working group membersare and what we currently work on. Members include Integrated Pest Management professionals, scientists, researchers and experts from land grant university IPM programs, government, private industry, and nonprofit representatives. It’s worth checking out, and for schools join and to implement.  The site, like the EPA site, has online training in rodent control and IPM practices. 

The EPA definition of IPM is this(p. 4):

“IPM is a smart, sensible, and sustainable approach to managing pests. It’s smart because IPM creates a

safer and healthier learning environment by reducing children’s exposure to both pests and pesticides. It’s sensible since practical strategies are used to reduce the sources of food, water and shelter pests need to infest school buildings and grounds. Finally, it’s sustainable, as IPM emphasizes prevention rather than control, making it more cost-effective for long-term pest mitigation. Simply put, IPM addresses the reasons why we have pests. Pests need food, water and shelter, and the goal of IPM is to deny them these necessities. IPM does this by instituting a combination of common-sense practices that prevent pests from infesting school buildings and grounds by both limiting access and reducing their attractiveness. IPM targets pests when they are most vulnerable by combining a knowledge of the pest’s biology with sound and proven pest management practices. IPM is proactive rather than reactive, eliminating the need for routine and repetitive use of pesticides by focusing on a sequential decision-making process. The IPM process includes:

  • Developing pest management goals and objectives;
  • Actively monitoring for pests and pest conducive conditions;
  • Identifying the pest and knowing its biology;
  • Selecting and implementing multiple, sustainable pest management strategies that emphasize improved sanitation, facility maintenance, pest exclusion, habitat modification, human activity modification, and the development and execution of preplanned approaches to deal with pest situations; and
  • Recording and continually evaluating results to determine if objectives are being met.

Note that IPM does not exclude the use of pesticides, but rather encourages the use of multiple mitigation approaches—and when deemed necessary, the application of pesticides that pose the least risk to people and the environment. Since children are at the greatest risk from exposure to pesticides, EPA recommends a careful and judicious approach to the use of pesticides in schools. As stated previously, the best way to manage pests is to create an inhospitable environment by denying them access to food, water and shelter. This can be accomplished by removing the basic elements pests need to survive and/or by simply blocking pests’ access to those things. Repairing water leaks, sealing around pipe and electrical entries into buildings, closing doors, cleaning food service areas daily, trimming trees that touch buildings, installing lids on waste receptacles, moving dumpsters away from buildings, removing excess equipment and clutter, selecting pest resistant construction materials, and other simple approaches limit a pest’s ability to establish a foothold in and around schools. Not only do these methods control pests, they also add to the aesthetics of the human environment, conserve energy, and improve air quality. When pests are found through active monitoring, IPM encourages low-risk control methods that include manual, mechanical, and cultural tactics in addition to the judicious use of pesticides. It is important to reiterate that IPM is not a single pest control approach, but rather a strategy of combined approaches that synergize to limit a pest’s ability to survive and thrive.” 

EPA recommended exclusion practices in schools:

  • Keep outside doors and windows shut when not in use
  • Place weather-stripping, door and bottom sweeps on exterior doors.
  • Seal gaps around windows and place weather stripping where missing.
  • Seal openings in walls and floors with pest resistant and structurally sound materials.
  • Install or repair screens in doors, windows, and other exterior openings as well as ventilation openings.

This article encourages schools to partner up with the EPA and the IPM Institute of North America to get trained in IPM and both partners have all the tools any school needs to get a great IPM program in place and make schools safer for children and employees.   Have a safe and happy school year!

Tags: bubonic plague, Center for Disease Control, Environmentally friendly, EPA, Hantavirus, Integrated Pest Management, IPM, Leptospirosis, NPMA, NWCOA, NYPMA, Pest Control, Pest management, Pest Proofing, Pesticides, PestWorld2019, Property maintenance, Public Education, Public Health Department, Public Safety, Quality Assurance, Rodent control, Rodent exclusion, Rodexit, Schools

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *