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ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS AND TOXIC CHEMICALS WHERE YOU LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY

Pests

What are they?

Pests are insects and other small animals that can harm human health, damage crops and food supplies, and destroy homes and other buildings. Pests that sting or bite include ants, bed bugs, bees, fleas, flies, lice, mosquitoes, spiders, and ticks. Pests that infest food or fabric include centipedes, cockroaches, dust mites, moths, and silverfish. Wood-destroying pests include carpenter ants, termites, and wood-boring beetles. Other pests include lizards, mice, moles, rabbits, raccoons, rats, skunks, snakes, squirrels, and voles.

Why are they a concern?

Many pests can harm humans. Dust mites and cockroaches can cause allergies, asthma, and other respiratory problems. Cockroaches can carry and spread diseases, including salmonella. Fire ant stings can cause serious allergic reactions. Fleas can bite, causing allergies. Flies can carry bacteria, viruses, and several diseases. Mosquito bites can cause infections, allergies, pain, and itching.

Rats can carry and spread diseases, including:

  • Hantavirus, an often deadly respiratory disease
  • Plague, a contagious bacterial disease marked by fever and delirium
  • Rat-bite fever, a bacterial illness
  • Salmonella, a bacterial infection in the intestine that is usually caused by food poisoning

Ticks can carry and spread serious diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Wasp stings can cause pain, itching, swelling, and allergies that can even cause death.

Who is at risk?

People who are exposed to pests, whether indoors or outdoors, are at risk.

What pollutants are of greatest concern?

Mosquitoes in the United States can carry serious diseases such as:

  • Dengue fever, a viral disease marked by fever and pains in the joints
  • Encephalitis, an infection or allergy that can make the brain swell
  • West Nile virus a virus causing encephalitis and flu-like symptoms

In some other countries, mosquitoes can carry these diseases, as well as malaria, yellow fever, and Zika virus, virus that can pass from a pregnant woman to her fetus and cause birth defects (in the U.S., Puerto Rico is an area with risk of Zika).

Reduce your risk

  • Do you leave food on the kitchen counter or in pet bowls?
  • Do you have standing water or leaky pipes in your home?
  • Do you go to wooded areas where you might be exposed to ticks?
  • Do you visit areas where you might be exposed to mosquitoes?
  • Do you travel to other countries?
  • Keep all food items in sealed containers.
  • Clean kitchen and dining areas after eating.
  • Declutter your home. Recycle stacks of newspapers, magazines, or cardboard.
  • Keep a clean house. Wash bedding, and vacuum regularly to remove dust mites.
  • Prevent bed bugs by:
    • Never bringing bed frames, mattresses, box springs, or upholstered furniture found on the street into your home.
    • Checking all used or rented furniture for bed bugs.
    • Inspecting beds and furniture when you travel. Keep suitcases off the floor and the bed. Inspect suitcases before you leave.
    • Immediately washing and drying your clothes on hot settings if you have been exposed to bed bugs, or store your clothes in sealed plastic until you can wash them.
  • Fix leaky pipes and remove standing water throughout the home.
  • Fill in cracks and crevices around the house. Use steel wool to fill spaces around pipes.
  • Install screens to discourage crawling and flying pests from entering your home.
  • Remove or destroy outdoor pest hiding spots.
  • Remove breeding sites. Do not leave garbage or pet droppings outside. 
  • If you go into wooded areas, check your body for ticks.
  • Use insect repellent (read the label before applying).
  • Avoid mosquito bites while traveling to other countries:
    • Learn about country-specific health risks.
    • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
    • Use insect repellent as directed on the label.
    • Stay in places that have air conditioning or use window and door screens. If this is not possible, sleep under a mosquito bed net.
  • Follow CDC vaccination guidelines for travel to other countries.
  • Use insect repellents registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. When used correctly, they have been proven safe and effective for children, and even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
  • Indoor allergens and irritants can trigger an asthma attack. If your child has asthma, keep your home clean and free of dust and pests. Wash sheets regularly. Use hypoallergenic covers for the mattress, box spring, and pillows. Remove rugs and carpeting wherever possible.
National Library of Medicine Resources and Databases
  • Animal Diseases and Your Health

    Curated links to current consumer health information on the effect of animal diseases on human health. These web resources written in English and Spanish include background information, related issues, specifics, journal articles, relevant organization and agencies, and targeted resources for women.

  • Insect Bites and Stings

    Curated links to current consumer health information on the effect of insect bites and stings on human health. These English and Spanish web resources include background information, prevention and risk factors, treatments and therapies, related issues, specifics, images, videos and tutorials, games, statistics and research, clinical trials, journal articles, relevant agencies, targeted resources for children and teenagers, and patient handouts.

  • Dengue

    Curated links to current consumer health information on dengue. These English and Spanish web resources include background information, symptoms, diagnosis and tests, prevention and risk factors, treatments and therapies, statistics and research, clinical trials, journal articles, relevant agencies, targeted resources for children and women, and patient handouts.

  • Hantavirus Infections

    Curated links to current consumer health information on hantavirus infections. These English and Spanish web resources include background information, clinical trials, journal articles, and patient handouts.

  • Cat Scratch Disease

    Curated links to current consumer health information on cat scratch disease. These English and Spanish web resources include background information, clinical trials, and journal articles.

  • Asthma

    Curated links to current consumer health information on asthma. These English and Spanish web resources include background information; diagnosis and tests; prevention and risk factors; treatments and therapies; information on living with asthma; related issues; specifics; genetics; images; health check tools; videos and tutorials; statistics and research; clinical trials; journal articles; relevant organizations and agencies; targeted information for children, women and seniors; and patient handouts.

  • Zika Virus

    Curated links to current consumer health information on Zika virus. These English and Spanish web resources include background information; symptoms; diagnosis and tests; prevention and risk factors; treatments and therapies; related issues; specifics; videos and tutorials; statistics and research; clinical trials; journal articles; targeted resources for children, men, and women; and patient handouts.

Additional Resources
  • Asthma Triggers: Gain Control

    Advice on identifying and protecting yourself from indoor allergens and irritants, which play a significant role in triggering asthma attacks.

  • Do's and Don'ts of Pest Control

    Tips for controlling pests that address pest prevention, safe and correct pesticide use and disposal, and links to additional resources.

  • Dust Mites (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences)

    Information on preventative strategies for reducing the number of dust mites in your home environment, from a federal institute that investigates the interplay between environmental exposures, human biology, genetics, and common diseases to help prevent disease and improve human health.

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