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Plague scare highlights health risks

Plague scare highlights health risks of rodents and fleas

Auckland, May 1, 2006: The first case of bubonic plague in California for more than 20 years has prompted a call for New Zealanders not to treat fleas and rodents lightly. The president of the Pest Management Association of New Zealand, Frank Visser, said today that the fact a Los Angeles woman was being treated for bubonic plague underlined that flea and rodent-born diseases could strike anywhere, at any time.

"It is suspected that the woman contracted the disease from fleas in her neighbourhood," he said. "The case marks the first recorded appearance of the plague in California since 1984." Mr Visser said that fleas and rodents posed a potentially serious health risk. "The bubonic plague was spread through Europe in the Middle Ages by the fleas on rats and killed millions of people," he said. "

The chances of contracting the plague in New Zealand are extremely remote, but rodents do spread leptospirosis here, and there is the potential for fleas to spread diseases also. It's important that people take immediate action to control any flea or rodent infestation." Mr Visser said that with New Zealand heading into the rodent season when cooler weather encouraged rats and mice to move indoors, now was the time to think about control. "

Every household should have a basic pest management plan – and buying a cat isn't the answer," he said. "Cats will act as a deterrent to rodents, but they won't control an infestation. Be vigilant and take action at the first sign of a problem."

Signs of rodent infestation are: • Gnaw marks. • Droppings. • Tracks (four-toed front foot in front of longer, five-toed hind foot). • Shallow burrows in or under vegetation. • Runways – greasy, dust-free pathways along walls or over goods. • Damaged food.

Rodent control measures include: • Bait – especially along runways and near food sources. • Traps. • Making buildings rat-proof. • Keeping lawns mown and gardens tidy (rodents hide and feed in long grass). • Professional extermination.

Flea control measures include: • Early and regular flea treatment of pets. • Cleaning and vacuuming regularly to remove eggs. • Professional extermination.


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