The Prescription for a Rodent Cure

Now that winter is in full swing, patients may not be the only ones checking into your healthcare facility. As temperatures drop, rodents seek refuge in clinics, hospitals and nursing homes to find warm shelter, food and water. These pests pose a significant threat to sterile environments due to the potential for the contamination of food, transmission of diseases and damage to property. Carrying more than 40 viruses and bacteria, including Salmonella, trichinosis and the causal agent of Lyme disease, rodents and their droppings can put patients at serious risk if not properly controlled.

Many healthcare professionals dont realize that just a few mice or rats can quickly multiply into an infestation of hundreds. For this reason, the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and others recommend that hospitals adopt an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program to manage rodents and other pests of concern. An IPM approach to pest control takes advantage of all available treatment options, seeking alternatives to chemicals whenever possible.

Facility maintenance is a cornerstone of IPM. It helps keep pests out and makes the facility less attractive to pests in the first place, both of which reduce the need for chemical controls. Work with your pest management professional to review your facility maintenance program and make sure it supports the pest management effort. As you do so, consider the following facility maintenance suggestions.

1. Maintain a closed-door policy With multiple windows and doors, hospitals and other healthcare facilities offer extra opportunities for rodent entry. Make sure all windows and doors shut completely. Remind staff members to keep doors shut as they are coming and going through storage areas, laundry rooms and kitchen entrances. Install door sweeps and weather stripping along the tops, sides and bottoms of doors.

2. Seal off discreet entry points Rodents wont limit themselves to windows and doors when a facility offers many other entry points. They can also enter through small openings in the exterior of a facility and can even gnaw their way into tiny cracks and crevices. Any opening that is larger than a quarter inch in diameter is a potential rodent entry point. Seal off unnecessary openings in the buildings exterior with a weather-resistant sealant. Ask your pest management professional to incorporate copper mesh or steel wool into the sealant as an extra precaution. Make sure to close off entrances in loading docks when they are not in use. Dont forget to screen vents and openings where utilities and pipes enter the facility.

3. Maintain a sanitary environment Practicing good sanitation is imperative to maintaining a safe, pest-free environment. One of the best ways to prevent a rodent infestation is to clean up or remove food and water sources and block access to the extent possible to the areas that provide them shelter. Since rodents are especially attracted to water sources and other places prone to moisture, closely monitor bathrooms, kitchens and laundry facilities. Keep basements well ventilated and dry.

4. Dont bring rodents flowers Effective maintenance is not limited to the inside of your facility. Taking simple landscaping measures around the building can prevent pests from burrowing their way in. Maintain a two-foot gravel strip of quarter-inch pebbles around the building to discourage rodent activity adjacent to the structure. Cut back all vegetation at least two feet from the façade of your facility to make sure rodents cannot hide close to the building or use branches to gain access to the roof or other exterior entry points.

These simple measures can prevent a problem and help ensure that you maintain a pest-free environment where patients and staff can thrive. Be sure clinical staff, environmental services and all other facility workers know how they can support the maintenance effort and help keep rodents and other pests out.

If you find evidence of a rodent infestation inside your healthcare facility look for droppings, rub marks around pipes or chewed wires call your pest management professional immediately. The sooner you identify the rodent species in question and isolate the root causes of the problem, the faster you can resolve the pest issue. 

Patrick Copps is the technical services manager for Orkins Pacific Division. A board-certified entomologist in urban and industrial entomology, Copps has more than 30 years of experience in the industry.

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