I'm writing today's blog post from my "new" office (my kitchen counter) during what is officially South Africa's fourth day of lock down, but what in reality feels more like day eleventy seven.
While I have the luxury of continuing to work from the safety of my home, my pest control and hygiene colleagues are out servicing customers in the essential service category, and doing what Rentokil Initial does best: protecting people and enhancing lives.
As part of the Rentokil Initial team, I've always believed that the services we provide are essential to people's health and safety, and never more so than now, during this global pandemic. But in case you might be wondering what on earth pest control could have to do with staying safe during the COVID-19 lock down, I've compiled my top 3 reasons why pest control will always be considered an essential service.
Top 3 reasons why pest control will always be an essential service:
1. Reduces the risk of disease:
There are numerous pests that infest the human environment (rodents, flies, mosquitoes, stored product insects, cockroaches, ticks and fleas to name just some) and nearly all of them are vectors of disease. They can contaminate food and surfaces, or transmit diseases directly through their bites.
Pest control is essential to disrupt the cycle of vector-borne diseases, the consequences of which can range from mild to serious conditions that requires hospital treatment, to disability and in some cases even death. Vector-borne diseases affect about a billion people worldwide each year and the WHO estimates there are 400-900 million cases of food-borne illness each year.
Here are just some of the diseases transmitted by pests, which can be prevented by good pest management:
● Salmonella and Campylobacter – these bacteria are two out of four key global causes of diarrhoeal diseases. They are widely distributed in domestic and wild animals, rodents, filth flies and cockroaches. They cause illness in 550 million people each year.
● Dengue virus is spread through Aedes mosquitoes and causes 100–400 million infections each year. There is a mortality rate of less than 1% when detected early and with access to proper medical care. The severe form of dengue has a mortality rate of 2–5% when treated, but when left untreated the mortality rate is as high as 20%.
● Leptospirosis is probably the number-one risk to humans as it presents symptoms similar to COVID-19 in the early stages. In 2018, it led to 800 deaths and a reported mortality rate of 1–2%.
● Rat-bite fever, caused by Spirillum minus and Streptobacillus moniliformis, is transmitted by rodents and is found mostly in Japan – although there have also been cases in the US, Europe, Australia and Africa. Untreated cases have a mortality rate of up to 10%.
● Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) – approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to CDC in the US annually; in Europe, more than 360,000 cases have been reported over the last two decades.
● West Nile virus is a member of the flavivirus genus and is mainly transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes. Of those infected, 80% will not show any symptoms, 20% will develop symptoms that include fever, headache, tiredness, body aches, nausea, vomiting, occasionally with a skin rash on the trunk of the body, and swollen lymph glands. About 1 in 150 people who are infected develop a severe illness that affects the central nervous system, such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord).
● Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever is a viral fever that’s usually transmitted by ticks. Outbreaks of CCHF constitute a threat to public health services because the virus can lead to epidemics and has a high case to fatality ratio (10–40%).
2. Disrupts the pest breeding cycle:
The rapid breeding cycles of most pests means that should they be left untreated for any length of time (for example, during a lock-down) their numbers can increase rapidly and result in them spreading to new areas, drastically increasing the infestation and the resulting chance of illness.
• Rats: after just three months a pair of rats can produce about 10 offspring. After six months, fifty rats can be produced. Rats reach sexual maturity after four to five weeks, meaning that a population can swell from two rats to around 1,250 in one year. Rats and other rodents destroy a significant portion of the world’s food supplies, spread a range of diseases and cause physical damage to buildings and fittings such as wiring by gnawing and burrowing.
• Flies: a pair of house flies will lay 75 eggs which will go through a complete life cycle in 10 days, therefore over a 30-day period, in ideal conditions, you could end up with more than 100,000 flies. Flies spread filth picked up on their bodies from their feeding habits and transfer it to food and surfaces, along with many types of pathogen.
• Cockroaches: Pest cockroach species can live up to 15 months in ideal conditions with high humidity and a constant supply of food. Based on 20 eggs completely developing into reproductive adults, in 90 days of favourable conditions a single female cockroach could give rise to population of 400 insects. Cockroaches transmit a range of diseases through filth on their bodies and in their droppings. Their droppings and moulted exoskeletons generate allergenic particles that cause asthma.
Thus pest control services are essential to halt the breeding cycle, which in turn minimises the risk of disease.
3. Reduces costs to businesses and organisations:
In addition to being vectors of disease, pests can cause physical damage to infrastructure that can halt the operation of anything from production lines to server rooms. Because society relies on both the digital networks and production lines of essential service businesses, it’s critical that pest control is maintained throughout periods of uncertainty.
In previous research, Rentokil established that the monetary cost of a pest infestation to businesses is significant. The impact across the food supply chain can be anything from stoppage of production to loss of food as a result of contamination, damage or consumption by pests.
In a report commissioned by Rentokil, the estimated value was $9.6bn at production sites across five countries. As the world increasingly relies on a digital infrastructure, the protection of connected equipment is critical, both in corporate and residential settings. Another survey of businesses commissioned by Rentokil found that 49% reported electrical damage caused by rodents. In the current health crisis, losses to digital connectivity could have a profound impact on local, regional or national society.
In addition to the risks to infrastructure caused by pests, there are a number of other areas that are also under threat. Ongoing pest management is an essential service to prevent both short and long-term damage. Reducing or removing pest control services can lead to rapid explosions of pest populations that could damage societal “assets”, which include museum artefacts, residential property, and office buildings and complexes. A lock-down only applies to humans; pests carry on their business regardless. If anything, they multiply exponentially and thrive, uninterrupted by humans.
Pest control is thus an essential service for many businesses which are - in turn - critical for our health and welbeing during lock down. South Africans are relying on our essential services to ensure food safety and security, as well as safe healthcare. And at a time of increased pressure on these core services, it’s crucial that we protect both these premises and our population from the health risks associated with pests and pest-borne diseases. Failure to do so will mean jeopardising the health and well being of the people and businesses upon which our society relies, and needs, in order to flourish.
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