Every facility faces unique challenges when it comes to pest management. For healthcare facilities, maintaining a pest-free environment is an absolute necessity. Pests in hospitals, clinics or other health establishments can damage more than a facility’s reputation. Many pests transmit disease-causing pathogens, posing health risks to vulnerable patients recovering from an illness or medical emergency as well as to staff and visitors.
Pests are attracted to any environment that offers food, water and shelter. If there’s a way into a facility, they will use it. With people constantly coming and going from healthcare facilities, pests are likely to gain access, bringing health risks with them if there are no measures in place to prevent or control them.
Know the risks
Managing pest pressures starts with knowing which pests are most likely to make an appearance at a healthcare facility and the risks associated with them.
Ants are one of Canada’s biggest pest problems. Though the primary threat of most species is structural damage, a few, such as pavement ants, European fire ants and pharaoh ants, can cause painful stings. Pharaoh ants also have the ability to transmit disease-causing pathogens in hospitals if they get onto surgical dressing, intravenous units or the body tissues of newborn babies.
Cockroaches are another one of the most loathed insects in the world. Though they are primarily a nuisance pest, they can transmit pathogens on their body and through their feeding. Their droppings and cast-off skins can also cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Flying pests also pose a significant threat to healthcare facilities.
Flies, though often perceived as simply a nuisance, are known to carry more than 100 pathogens, including salmonella, Staphylococcus and E. coli. Some of these pathogens can cause serious illnesses, such as diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid fever, cholera, hepatitis and tuberculosis. A half-billion microorganisms constantly swarm over flies’ bodies and legs, and they deposit thousands of bacteria each time they land.
While bees and wasps are known for painful stings, reactions can also include infection at the site of the sting, difficulty breathing, headaches, fever, vomiting and anaphylaxis (a severe allergic reaction). These stinging insects can even be deadly to people allergic to their venom.
And finally, a rodent sighting will put any facility on the fast-track to a bad reputation. These critters not only cause structural damage, but also carry and transmit a number of dangerous disease-causing pathogens such as Hantavirus, which can be fatal. These diseases can be transmitted by rodent bites; by mites, fleas, or ticks that have hitchhiked on rodents; or by direct contamination of water and food containing rodent excrement or bodily fluids.
Preventing pests from gaining access inside a facility starts with an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, which uses sanitation and facility maintenance measures to eliminate pests’ survival factors. IPM is an effective approach for every industry, because it proactively prevents pests instead of waiting to act until an infestation has already occurred. It’s important to remember that effective pest management is an ongoing process, not a one-time event.
A pest management provider will work with an organization to determine an IPM program that is specific to its needs and its facility’s unique characteristics. Another important part of IPM is training staff how to identify signs of pests and prevent them through facility maintenance. Reputable pest management providers offer on-site training for an organization’s employees. Take advantage of it — employees are an organization’s first line of defense against pests.
Certain technologies can be used in conjunction with IPM to strengthen a facility’s defense against pests. In healthcare settings, the following three technologies can be particularly helpful at identifying pest problems and stopping pests before they become health risks.
- Ultrasonic devices use manipulated sound frequencies to deter rodents. Technology for these devices has improved significantly in the past few years. By strategically placing these devices around the exterior of a healthcare facility, the sound pressure and frequency — which is undetectable to humans — will drive rats and mice away. They can be used along with mechanical rodent traps and baiting stations to create a strong buffer around the facility.
- Insect light traps are one of the most effective tools to control flies. They use ultraviolet light to attract flies, which then get stuck to a nontoxic adhesive board inside the trap. The adhesive board ensures there’s no chance for contamination from flying insect parts associated with traditional bug zappers.
- Electronic monitoring uses barcodes on pest management devices and a web-based program to track a facility’s pest activity over time. Automated data collection systems make the reporting process more efficient and provide valuable insights into potential hot spots for pests and facility trends over time, enabling organizations to further refine their pest management efforts. The electronic system also eliminates the need for hard-copy reports, so there’s no more digging through filing cabinets when it comes time for an inspection.
Healthcare facilities should work closely with their pest management provider to establish a zero-tolerance pest policy. By knowing what to look for, taking an IPM approach, and integrating helpful technologies into a pest management plan, health establishments can keep pests — and their diseases — in their place and away from patients, staff and visitors.
Alice Sinia, Ph.D., is a resident entomologist – regulatory/lab services for Orkin Canada focusing on government regulations pertaining to the pest control industry. With more than 10 years of experience, she manages the quality assurance laboratory for Orkin Canada and performs analytical entomology as well as provides technical support in pest/insect identification to branch offices and clients. She can be reached at [email protected].