Governments around the world, South Africa included, have ordered the shutdown of non-critical businesses and services to reduce the transmission of the Coronavirus and "flatten the curve" (You can read up on pandemic terminology in this blog post).
Buildings that are classed as essential services may have a reduced staff complement as only essential workers are regularly on site. For infection control, businesses may also restrict the access of external contractors to their premises. All of these factors have left many buildings lying empty or with a much reduced human presence, resulting in far greater pest risks and maintenance problems. If pest control technicians can’t access a site, there’s a risk of infestations occurring and pest numbers multiplying in an uncontrolled manner.
Buildings in multiple sectors are affected, including offices, hotels, restaurants, educational premises, industrial sites and residential homes, where homeowners are reluctant to allow contractors in - to protect themselves from infection. With no or few people and little activity, these buildings have become a perfect habitat for many types of pest.
When there is also available food nearby, pest numbers can grow rapidly, which can result in:
● physical damage to the buildings and fittings
● a large pest infestation that’s much harder to eradicate
● contamination of the site with debris from nesting material and droppings
● contaminated surfaces posing a health risk from the many diseases that pests can carry
● infestations of secondary pests carried as ectoparasites, including ticks, fleas, mites, lice, beetles, and weevils that infest nests but are also stored product insects.
Pest infestations cost businesses an estimated £11.8 billion across five countries, according to a Rentokil commissioned survey. Over a quarter of businesses reported damage to electrical equipment during a rat infestation and 15% of businesses reported loss of revenue due to customer trust following an infestation.
The top 4 pest risks to buildings:
In part on of this blog post we will look at the 2 of the 4 most common pest risks to buildings; rodents and cockroaches. In part 2, we will look at flies and birds.
Rats and mice are capable of an exponential increase in population when there’s an abundant food supply. They produce multiple litters in a year and several generations of young mature and produce their own young within a year. In addition, benign environmental conditions inside a building (such as shelter from natural predators) means that any young produced have a higher chance of survival than in the wild.
During lockdown many food businesses such as restaurants and cafés have been closed. This has resulted in local rat populations suddenly having had their regular food supplies disappear! This can lead to starvation, which drives rodents to leave their normal territory to look for new food supplies. Rats - whilst ordinarily nocturnal - will even change their normal habits to find food during the daytime: this unusual behaviour has already been reported in New Orleans.
These starving rats are an increased risk to nearby buildings where food is still present, including, hospitals, care homes, food retail stores, food stores, warehouses, and homes. Rubbish bins that have not been emptied will also attract rats.
Risks posed by rodents:
The hazards that rats and mice pose include the following:
● Damage to building fabric and fixtures caused by constant gnawing. The most common problem caused by the brown rat is damage to electrical equipment and a risk of fire caused by wires shorting. Rats can also cause extensive damage to sewer systems by burrowing
● Contamination along access routes with urine, droppings, and filth picked up from the environment
● Damage to food containers and packaging
● Eating food in stores and packages
● Contamination of surfaces with droppings, urine, filth
● Transmission of a large number of diseases, including Salmonellosis, Leptospirosis, Toxoplasmosis, Lyme disease, rat-bite fever
● Rodents carry ectoparasites including ticks, fleas, lice, and mites and are, therefore, also vectors for all the diseases that these in turn carry
Cockroaches are the most common type of crawling insect that infests food-handling businesses. They cause particular problems because of their small size (which means they can hide just about anywhere), their varied diet, their rapid reproduction cycle and the diseases they can carry.
Cockroaches shelter in dark places such as cracks, crevices, drains, sewers, inside equipment and furnishings, and hidden spaces - in fact just about anywhere that provides the right temperature and humidity. These places are also hard to reach using basic cleaning and sanitation methods.
The three most common Cockroach species:
● German Cockroach (Blatella germanica)
It prefers wet, humid conditions and is especially associated with infestations of kitchens and food storage areas, but also infests bathrooms, vehicles, offices and administrative areas.
● American cockroach (Periplaneta americana)
It requires warm, humid environments to survive. They’re found in drains, sewers, basements, storage rooms and waste storage areas.
● Oriental cockroach (Blatta orientalis)
It prefers cooler, dark and damp places to shelter, such as basements and drains, and can be found in storage rooms and waste storage areas.
Risks posed by cockroaches:
● Diseases and allergens: cockroaches can carry a large number of disease-causing bacteria, including Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Listeria, E. coli, and also fungi, viruses and parasitic worms
● They feed on any decaying organic matter, mould, and faecal matter in sewers, which can then be carried into buildings on their bodies and in excreta
● They defecate wherever they crawl and frequently expel saliva on surfaces to ‘taste’ their environment
● Droppings and bodily secretions stain and leave a foul odour that can permeate infested areas and goods
● Cast skins and egg cases contaminate food products and packaging
● Asthma caused by allergens in the droppings and shed skins
How to protect buildings from pest risks:
It’s essential to continue pest control services and building maintenance to prevent pests from accessing buildings and to prevent infestations from becoming a greater financial risk. Pest infestations also lead to reputational damage and may delay the return of a building to normal use when the lockdown restrictions are lifted. A professional pest control service can provide an integrated pest-management plan that controls pests efficiently and discreetly to protect the building, stock, equipment and provides a safe place for staff.
Watch out for part 2 of this post in which we will look at the risks posed by pest birds and flies.
Pest control is classified as an essential service as it is critical for health and well-being during the lockdown. Rentokil Initial can provide all our contracted services and we strongly recommend that our customers consider implementing a precautionary antibacterial fogging schedule in addition to their other pest control and hygiene services.
Contact us if you are worried about pest risks to your building during lock down and you would like to arrange for your pest control service technician to have access to your site (don't forget to ask your technician about myRentokil). Subscribe to our blog to receive insights straight to your inbox each month.
Returning to work after a period of lockdown? Download this free checklist to help you return safely.
Ready to read part 2? Carry on reading in Lockdown: The Top 4 Pest Risks to Empty Buildings (Part 2)