Preventing outbreaks of pests and their diseases

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bed bugsPests in your hospital can do more than harm your reputation. Different pests can actually pose health threats to your staff and patients. And some of the most dangerous pests can be the hardest to control.

In the last four annual Association for the Healthcare Environment (AHE) member surveys on pest management, ants have been both the most common pest in healthcare facilities and the toughest to control. Cockroaches, flies and rodents also pose significant threats, and all of these pests can harm your patients.

Ants and cockroaches can pick up and transfer harmful bacteria. Cockroach droppings and cast skins can aggravate allergies and even cause asthma attacks, especially in sensitive individuals. Flies spread microorganisms and disease-causing organisms everywhere they land.

Then there are rodents, which can also cause serious health problems. According to Health Canada, rats and mice are known to spread diseases including Hantavirus.

Fortunately, you can control many of these pests with Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Instead of being reactive, to pest problems, IPM focuses on preventing and managing pest activity through sanitation, facility maintenance and exclusion techniques. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Try these techniques around your facility to clean up, clear up, lock down and lock out any pest pressures:

Clean up, Clear up
Pests are always on the lookout for a free meal. Don’t offer one, and they’ll be less attracted to your facility.
• In food preparation areas, keep food stored away in airtight containers. Make sure that employee break rooms are free of any crumbs or food sitting in the open, and clean up any spills immediately. Don’t forget about spilled food or drinks in recycling bins – a favorite target for ants and flies.
• Ask your staff to report any ant sightings to your pest management professional. Create a written sanitation program and educate your staff on the role they play in it. From the break room to patient rooms, have your staff follow these steps to ensure pests don’t have reason to venture in or hang around.
• Apply the same strategies to receiving and storage areas. Loading docks can be a little more accessible than other entrances. Not only can pests squeeze under receiving doors, but they can also sneak in on shipments. Inspect shipments right away and make sure that exterior doors form a tight seal when closed.
• Keep storage and receiving areas clean, well-lit and uncluttered – pests love clutter as it gives them places to hide. Close all containers with airtight lids and store them at least six inches off the floor and 18 inches away from walls. Also, throw away or recycle cardboard boxes whenever you can as cockroaches can hide in their corrugation.

Lock down, lock out
While guests and residents can unknowingly bring pests into your facility, many threats that you will face will come from outside – and near – your building. Pay close attention to your landscaping, your parking lot and your facility’s exterior.
• Trim back vegetation and tree branches, creating a two-foot buffer around your perimeter. Ants and other insects can use those bushes that brush up against your building as a vehicle to gain access. The buffer will also deter rodents, which don’t like to be crawling out in the open.
• Work with your pest management professional to identify any gaps around your building’s perimeter and close them. Install weather stripping and window screens and seal holes with a metal mesh that rodents can’t chew through and weather-resistant sealant.
• At entrances, install automatic doors, which give pests fewer opportunities to pass through. To help keep flying pests out, work with an HVAC professional to make sure you have positive airflow; test this by holding a piece of paper in a doorway and make sure the air blows out of – not into – your building. You can also create an air curtain that pests can’t fly through by vertically mounting fans on either side of a doorway.
• Inspect your grounds and parking lots regularly to make sure that they are free from trash that can attract pests. If pests find a little appetizer outside, they may want to get inside for the entree. You can further deter flying insects by swapping out mercury vapor lamps outside next to entryways with sodium-vapor lights.

The goal of any IPM program is to take preventative action to reduce the presences of pests. However, just like patients, each hospital is different. So talk with a pest management professional about creating a customized IPM plan for your facility. A proper IPM plan will ensure that your hospital is only serving patients, not pests.