Cleaning your home diligently is not a guarantee that you will never have a run-in with a household pest at some point. There could be more than 100 bugs living in their home at any given time. Some of these pests can have a harmful effect on your health, while others could leave lasting damage to your property.
To combat harmful pests, we often employ preventive measures, like keeping a clean environment.
Suppose three-quarters of households in the U.S. indeed will use at least one type of indoor pesticide. In that case, it seems prudent that reliable information is available to help consumers use pesticides safely indoors. We have created this article to focus on pesticides and basic safety when using substances that kill indoor pests.
How Bad is the Indoor Pest Problem?
There may not be consensus in the scientific community about how many pests live in your home, but there seems to be agreement that they are many. A study involving a team of entomologists (scientists who study insects) from North Carolina State University searched through 50 American homes. The study concluded that between 32 and 211 groups of biological organisms live in an average home.
While some of the organisms in the 32 to 211 groups living in the average home are likely to cause no harm because humans have lived with them for centuries, some could be dangerous. This is why you need to know what pests you need help with and how you can safely get rid of them.
What Attracts Pests Into the Home?
According to a paper produced by the University Of Tennessee Institute Of Agriculture, “Pests are attracted by light, warm air, moisture, and food.” The article continues to note that, “Odors from a dead bird, rodent, dead insects or nest in a wall, soured mop or spilled materials, can also be attractive.” Once in the home, the pests find dark spaces that they can crawl into and hide.
The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture article, referred to above, shows that some environments will have a greater ability to attract pests than others. For this reason, one of the primary ways of dealing with pests is to ensure that they are not invited to your home in the first place.
Health Threats Caused by Pests
Do we really need to be worried about indoor pests? Apparently yes. Pests like rodents can be harmful to humans if they are allowed to thrive indoors. For instance, flies are considered pests because of their ability to spread disease and cause significant risk to people's health in your home.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the health threats caused by pests can be both direct and indirect. This means that even without direct contact with pests, we can catch diseases linked to pests via other carriers that have come into contact with them, like ticks.
The directly transmitted diseases are mostly carried by viruses that can enter the body when you breathe dust contaminated with rodent droppings or urine, direct contact with the rodents, eating food contaminated with rodent urine, or contact with an infected person.
To get an example of the dangers of pests in the home, let’s look at some of the dangerous diseases identified by the CDC that they can cause. The diseases listed below can be severe, resulting in damage to internal organs like the liver, kidneys, and lungs:
- Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome: Could escalate from a flu-like illness to a condition that makes it difficult to breathe.
- Salmonellosis: Is characterized by pain and cramps in the abdomen, diarrhea, and fever.
- Lassa Fever: Could lead to headaches, muscle pain, fever, and vomiting.
- Plague: Could result in chest pain, coughing, and shortness of breath.
- Rat-bite Fever (RBF): Results in headaches, vomiting, back and joint pain, and fever. It can be potentially fatal if not treated.
For several other diseases transmitted by rodents and other pests, both directly and indirectly, see a list provided by the CDC here.
Indoor Pest Control
Because of the danger that pests pose, it’s imperative to eliminate pests from your home. This can be achieved only through active pest control. While preventive measures are the best form of pest control, alone, they will not be enough. For instance, you may move into a new home that is already infested, or someone may bring the pests from elsewhere into your home. In such instances, corrective pest control mechanisms become the only option.
Below are some of the ways we can control or eliminate pests in our homes.
Use of Vacuum Cleaners
Vacuum cleaners are an effective way to remove dead and living pests from your surroundings. Place a knee-high sock over the vacuum tube's end to catch pests and avoid them infesting the vacuum.
Vacuuming is suitable for use in sensitive areas like schools and healthcare facilities. It can also be used to complement other pest control methods.
Use of Traps
Traps exist in different types, including snap traps, catch traps, and live traps. They can catch vertebrate pests near walls because rodents often move around using wall edges to navigate their way.
Glue boards and fly light traps are other types of traps used to control pests and rodents. However, these may not eliminate all the pests in the home, especially the extremely tiny ones. Also, traps may not work if you want to protect your home from pests if you are away for an extended period.
Use of Pesticides
Pesticides can eliminate pests and disease-carrying vectors (blood-feeding transmitters of diseases) like mosquitoes, ticks, flies, fleas, and lice. Pesticides can come in different forms, depending on the types of pests you want to target.
What Makes Something a Pesticide?
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a pesticide, as defined by the law, is any combination of substances designed to prevent or destroy pests. The same agency says, “The intent of the product is important in determining if a specific product is a pesticide.” Signals of intent include the “claims on the label and advertising, composition, use, and mode of action of the product as distributed or sold.”
Choosing a Pesticide
Useful as they are, pesticides are not without ramifications on human health. However, you can take steps to ensure that whatever pesticide you choose effectively eliminates the specific pests you are after while posing the least amount of threat to your health.
When choosing a pesticide:
- Select a pesticide designed for the pest problem you are trying to eliminate.
- Read the label carefully to familiarize yourself with all safety precautions to know if you will safely use the particular pesticide.
- Always go for the pesticide with the lowest toxicity level, as long as it can eliminate the target pests.
- Evaluate how serious your pest problem is, and use that information to determine how much pesticide you need; try not to exceed your required limit when buying pesticides.
- Get a product that is already mixed instead of the one you'll need to mix yourself.
- Never select an outdoor pesticide for indoor use.
Safety Tips When Using Pesticides Indoors
When using pesticides indoors, the following are the safety tips you must follow to ensure that your use of pesticides does not harm you and those around you.
Always read labels carefully. Labels contain all the information you need about your pesticide composition, how to use it, and how to safely dispose of it.
The World Health Organization (WHO) provides specifications on what should be included on a pesticide product's label. This includes instructions on what to do should the pesticide be ingested and the measures to be taken during application.
Pesticides need to be stored safely. This is to avoid mishaps like children getting their hands on them, the pesticide containers getting damaged, leading to spills, and to ensure that the pesticides remain viable for future use. Some of the best practices for the storage of pesticides include the following.
- Do not put pesticides in empty food or drink containers. Doing this can lead to someone unwittingly ingesting its contents. Also, food and drink containers are not designed to hold pesticides. They may not be effective in keeping pesticides safe and viable for future use.
- Do not put pesticides in other pesticides' containers. Leave them in their original containers where other users can access the accurate labels.
- Pesticides should be locked away in storage, where children and other unauthorized persons cannot access them.
If you must mix your pesticides with water or other substances:
- Only mix the quantity that you require per time.
- Do not mix pesticides indoors.
- Wear gloves and a mask when mixing pesticides.
Basic precautionary measures to follow when spraying pesticides indoors include:
- Spraying into holes, cracks, and crevices in the house because these are the areas where pests are most likely to hide.
- Wearing protective overalls complete with gloves. The eyes, nose, and mouth should also be covered.
- Check your pesticide’s label to know the prescribed disposal method of the pesticide and its container.
- Check with the local authority in your community to determine whether there is accommodation for collecting hazardous household waste.
- Insecticide suspension no longer needed can be disposed of safely by pouring it into a latrine or a special-purpose hole dug in the ground.
- Never dispose of pesticides in any water bodies or places where pesticide residues can find their way into water bodies.
- Do not dispose of pesticides in or around your house. Try to have a hundred-meter gap between your house and the disposal point, which can be a hole in the ground or a pit.
Know the Signs of Poisoning
You may take all the precautions with pesticides, but accidents can still happen. The most probable accident is poisoning. After confirming that a person has come in to contact with pesticides, according to the WHO, pesticide poisoning can be identified using the following indicators:
- General tiredness
- Skin irritation, profuse sweating, and burning sensations
- Itching, burning, or watering eyes, blurry vision, and dilated or constricted pupils.
- Diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and pain in the abdomen
- Muscle twitches, headaches, impaired speech, dizziness, and unconsciousness
- Wheezing, breathing difficulty, chest pain, and cough.
If someone, who has recently been inappropriately exposed to pesticides, exhibits any of these symptoms, first aid is the first resort until further treatment can be administered by a medical professional. Check the container for instructions on what should be done in the event of poisoning by pesticides.
Other Pesticide Guides
Curious about other pesticides? Check out our other detailed guides to help you deal with your pest problems.