It’s DIY pest control.
Key to preventing infestations of the disease-carrying mosquitoes, ticks and mice in yards and homes: creating an inhospitable environment by draining water that accumulates in surprising places, cleaning up plant life and debris, and keeping bird feeders, compost bins and other pest-food sources away from the house.
As residents embark on cleaning and landscaping and open up summer cabins, the Spokane Regional Health District is offering those and other tips for curbing pests. In particular, deer mice, mosquitoes and ticks can carry hantavirus, West Nile virus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, among other illnesses.
While health officials advise using insect repellent and protective clothing, they also encourage residents to make their homes less hospitable to disease-carrying pests.
“Any one of these diseases could be life-threatening,” said Kim Papich, a health district spokeswoman.
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome feels like the flu but can progress quickly to life-threatening breathing problems.
Hantaviruses are spread by rodents, especially deer mice, distinguishable from ordinary “house mice” by their white bellies and feet and hairy tails (as opposed to house mice’s naked and scaly ones).
Hantavirus killed two Eastern Washington residents in 2012. The state has had the fifth-highest cumulative number of residents with illness, which is fatal in more than one-third of reported cases, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Idaho ranks ninth.
So keep garbage, pet food, bird feeders and compost and wood piles away from the house, the health district advises.
“For rodents, it’s really about not feeding them or housing them,” Papich said.
The virus spreads not through bites, but when people open up dormant garages, sheds or cabins, stirring up and breathing in the dried droppings and saliva in mice’s nests, said Julie Awbrey, of the health district’s Environmental Public Health Division.
“When you’re cleaning up after mouse droppings, you want to do it wet,” she said.
Start by opening doors and windows and airing out the structure for at least 30 minutes. Then use a bleach-water solution (one part bleach to 10 parts water) to get the nesting areas wet, let it sit five minutes, and mop it up with paper towels before cleaning and disinfecting the whole area. Wear protective clothing: long-sleeve shirts, long pants and shoes.
Big infestations might merit a call to a pest-control company whose employees are outfitted with respirators and protective gear, Awbrey said.
Biting ticks spread relapsing fever, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Two cases of relapsing fever – the symptoms come and go in cycles – were reported in Spokane County last year, and none of the latter two illnesses.
But a Spokane Valley 6-year-old got Rocky Mountain spotted fever in 2011. Early symptoms include high fever, severe headaches and fatigue; a rash shows up a few days later on the victim’s ankles and wrists.
Also, the state has seen a dozen reported cases of tick paralysis in the past 20 years. Victims regain use of their limbs almost instantly after the tick is plucked from their skin, Papich said.
Ticks hang out in tall grass and overgrown shrubbery. Keeping yards and brushy areas trimmed will help keep them at bay. The district also advises creating a “tick barrier” of wood chips or mulch on the yard’s perimeter.
West Nile virus is transmitted to humans, birds and other animals by bites from infected mosquitoes. Most people who get it suffer only mild symptoms, such as fever and headache, but it can lead to brain inflammation.
No cases of West Nile virus acquired in Washington were reported in 2013. But two Washington residents acquired the virus in the state in 2012.
Two West Nile virus-related deaths were reported in Idaho in 2013, according to data from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Many who’ve been sickened by West Nile don’t know that’s the cause of their illness, Papich said.
“Likely those numbers are the tip of iceberg,” Papich said. “In actuality, there’s more people who probably have it.”
Mosquitoes deposit their eggs in standing water, and it doesn’t take much.
The health district advises residents to empty standing water from the fold of a tarp, a child’s toy bucket and overflow dishes under pots and planters – to name a few potential breeding grounds – twice a week.