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  • Writer's pictureChelle Hartzer

Feeling OK? (AKA: What's the plague got to do with it?)

Since we are still in the middle of a pandemic, this is a great time to talk about other outbreaks of diseases. Specifically the plague. Yep, that black death plague. I posted a few weeks back about recent cases and that the plague still exists; cases occur every year in the US (though more common outside developing countries). There are many aspects of the plague that are relevant to pest control and to what we are going through today.

The Pests - Plague is an infectious disease caused by bacteria (Yersinia pestis) that fleas transmit from small mammals to humans. While there is some discussion about the reservoir host, rats are a likely culprit since they were so prevalent, especially in cities where outbreaks were devastating. The WHO estimates that the Black Death in the 14th century killed over 50 million Europeans. There was just a case in Mongolia that resulted in the death of one person. The CDC reports that the US has around nine human cases per year. With modern medicine, it can be easily treated today. However, the small mammals (rats) and the bacteria still exist. Rodent control (as well as tick and insect control) is extremely important to keep this and other diseases like Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Hantavirus, in check. Thankfully our current pandemic is not spread by any insects or rodents. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to be concerned with other pest-transmitted diseases. During our current pandemic, many areas in the country have reported significant increases in rodents, especially in cities. This increase is due to having their food supplies dry up from restaurants and large gathering spaces. They have moved into more residential areas to supplement their diet. More rodents mean the potential for more human interactions and more disease transmission.

The PPE – They didn’t quite have the science-based information we have today, but “plague doctors” in the 17th and 18th centuries did their best. They wore their personal protective gear. They wore long protective gowns, gloves, heavy boots, and a mask. The mask had eye protection (crystal eyepieces) and a long “beak” which was filled with aromatic herbs. They believed that diseases were spread by “miasma” or air coming from the sick. That’s actually fairly accurate, though the masks probably offered little protection compared to our respiratory protection masks today. The PPE we use today for pest management work is similar: gloves, long pants and shirt sleeves, eye protection, and of course masks. Performing pest management like mosquito treatments, tick treatments, and rodent clean outs can mean an increased risk to diseases like West Nile virus, Hantavirus, and more. With the increased number of people working from home, there can be more personal interactions; so an increase in the risk for Covid. Take a lesson from the plague doctors and wear personal protective equipment, especially a mask!

The (continuing) Problem – Diseases and pests change, evolve, and adapt. The plague still has outbreaks in many African countries. With some states trying to ban certain control methods, we may see more rodent pests. An increase in rodents results in more human-rodent interactions that could lead to disease outbreaks. We see new diseases emerging like Zika a few years ago and there’s always the chance for more. We see conditions change. Many have seen an increase in pests since Covid started because they are at their homes more. Pests are also moving from urban areas that used to have a prevalence of food to more residential areas. Climate change also has an impact: recent studies show mosquitoes being present for longer periods of time which could mean an increase in the diseases they spread.

While Covid is not spread by any pests, it still has an impact on pest control. While the plague isn’t prevalent in the US, there are many similarities to outbreaks today and lessons that can be learned from that. Wondering if your pest control program is adequately protecting you from pests and disease? Contact 360 PFSC today to find out!

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