Often household pests seem like a mere irritation, an annoying aspect of our lives that we can quickly mitigate and move on from. While that’s often true, some kinds of insects, rodents, and wildlife can pose a serious risk to your health — and we aren’t talking about big, scary creatures such as a grizzly bear! And if you have certain risk factors such as asthma, you could face even greater problems.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the general dangers of household pests, offering a list of household pests and diseases caused by them, and talk about the particular issues they can cause for people with asthma.
No one is ever particularly pleased to learn about the presence of mice and rats on a property, but they do more than horrify homeowners, employees, and potential clients. An authority no less than the CDC notes, “Worldwide, rats and mice spread over 35 diseases. These diseases can be spread to humans directly, through handling of rodents, through contact with rodent feces, urine, or saliva, or through rodent bites. Diseases carried by rodents can also be spread to humans indirectly, through ticks, mites or fleas that have fed on an infected rodent.” Some of these include:
- Hemorrhagic Fever
- Lassa Fever
- Lymphocytic Chorio-meningitis
Rodents can also cause asthma attacks to flare up, mostly as a reaction to the droppings and urine, which they can track all over a property.
Here’s the good news about the tsetse fly: If you spend your life in North America, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll every encounter it. This disease spreading insect appears primarily throughout Africa. However, it still lands high on lists of examples of harmful pests. Why? The tsetse fly spreads a parasite called Trypanosoma brucei, which can lead to the development of a disease called sleeping sickness. The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that initial symptoms include “bouts of fever, headaches, enlarged lymph nodes, joint pains and itching,” but can further develop if left untreated, attacking the central nervous system and causing “changes of behavior, confusion, sensory disturbances and poor coordination. Disturbance of the sleep cycle, which gives the disease its name, is an important feature.”
Giant Japanese Hornet
While tsetse flies pretty much stay in Africa, the same can’t be said of the giant Japanese hornet, also known as the Asian giant hornet. Their often-two-inch lengths, nearly quarter-inch stingers, and ferocious blitzkrieg attacks on beehives have earned them the unenviable nickname “murder hornets.” As their name suggests, they’re native to east Asia and the Land of the Rising Sun, but recent years have seen them migrate to America’s Pacific northwest and western Canada. The New York Times reported that Asian giant hornets can kill humans with a single sting, and their outsize stingers can punch through a beekeeper’s suit. Smithsonian Magazine added, “The hornets kill up to 50 people a year in Japan; however, such fatalities are rare.”
Wasps and Bees
Bees and wasps typically attack the outside areas of properties, yet in the rare cases when they start to build their hives inside a property, they can become incredibly harmful insects in the house. Often property owners fail to notice the growing colonies of stinking insects until they have a firm foothold within a structure. Once they do, remediation measures can entail significant damage to a property. Bees, wasps, and other stinging insect pose a particular risk to humans since their venom can lead to anaphylaxis (a potentially systemic allergic reaction that can cause blood pressure to plummet and the development of shock).
Stinging insects have an odd relationship to asthma. While a 2013 study in the journal Cytokine found that exposure to bee venom could moderate some asthma symptoms, that study was conducted under controlled conditions. Getting stung “in the wild” (so to speak) carries real risks, and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America concludes that stings put people at risk for allergic reactions.
Scorpions may look much more intimidating than bees and wasps, but they present a similar threat profile as far as asthma and allergy sufferers go. For instance, a 2022 study published in the journal Aging stated that “the scorpion and centipede (SC) significantly ameliorates asthma,” although the exact method of the improvement remains something of a mystery. However, despite the potential benefit, scorpion stings are something you’ll definitely want to avoid.
Scorpions exist all over the world, and they’re remarkably hardy creatures. While most live for three to five years, some have been known to survive for more than two decades. There are roughly 90 types of scorpions in the United States, most of which aren’t particularly dangerous to humans. But they still can cause anaphylaxis in susceptible individuals.
Cockroaches are universally reviled as some of the most harmful insect at home — and some of the most resilient. They can survive below-freezing temperatures, hold their breath for more than half an hour, and even function for a full week without their heads. Such robustness is bad news for humans, because cockroaches carry more than 30 kinds of bacteria, including salmonella, E. Coli, and several types of parasitic worms that thrive in people.
They also are seriously bad news for those with asthma. Cockroaches spread allergens that can cause nasty flare ups, including severe asthma attacks. Indeed, a 2017 study published in the journal Allergy stated, “Cockroach sensitization is an important risk factor for the development of asthma.” It also noted, “Asthma is the most prevalent chronic illness in children with both increasing clinical and public health concerns. The prevalence of asthma in the United States has increased from 7.3% in 2001 to 8.4% in 2010. Currently, asthma affects over 300 million people and one out of every 250 deaths worldwide is attributed to this disease.”
Here’s the good news about termites: They don’t appear to have any significant impact on human health. However, they do immense amounts of property damage — the EPA states that homeowners spend $2 billion annually to manager them — and their detection can often coincide with other harmful developments. For instance, properties facing serious termite infestations often also have mold problems, and mold can exacerbate asthma symptoms.
At first glance, silverfish seem like some of the more harmless pests out there. While they have a nasty habit of noshing on starchy items such as paste, glue, flour, oats, and other pantry items, they don’t actually bite people. But if you have asthma, they could still pose a problem for you. Because they regularly molt, they can prompt allergic reactions in susceptible individuals in addition to causing property damage.
How to deal with pest-related allergies
It’s one thing to explain the dangers of household pests and quite another to deal with the physical havoc that they cause. If you find yourself suffering an asthma attack, contact your medical professional first and implement an appropriate treatment plan.
Once you’ve addressed your immediate medical needs, you can take several direct steps to safeguard your immediate environment, including:
- Thoroughly clean all surfaces
- Promptly bag and remove all trash
- Ensure that your property has adequate ventilation
- Eliminate furnishing that shed allergens
The final step you should consider taking is to employ a reputable pest-control professional. Contact us today to learn how Smithereen can help!