THINK you’re alone in lockdown? Greedy stockpilers may be unwittingly welcoming a grisly cast of creepy critters into their homes that are hungry and riddled with disease.
Over just three weeks in the first lockdown, panic-buying Brits hoarded an eye-watering billion pounds’ worth of extra food over coronavirus fears, serving up an unprecedented banquet for rats, mice and ants.
⚠️ Read our coronavirus live blog for the latest news & updates
Many people stocked up on huge amounts of food because of coronavirus fears – but the extra food could attract pestsCredit: AFP or licensors
“People have got lots of rice and pasta and they’re putting it in places where they wouldn’t have stored food before — the under stairs cupboards, loft spaces, places like that,” says Peter Higgs, who runs PGH Pest Control.
“Because they’ve got so much of it, vermin are going to get in — and a lot of the time people won’t notice.
“We often find that they get into cereal packets and people don’t even know.
“As they run over it and poop in it, it sinks to the bottom, so you don’t always know you’ve got a rat problem or a mouse problem until it’s too late.”
Cupboards full of food can lead to nightmare infestations of rats and miceCredit: Facebook
They say you’re never more than a few feet away from one of Britain’s 81 million rats.
And as horrendous pictures of rubbish piling up during the lockdown show, we seem intent on tempting them ever closer to our homes.
Here’s what you can do to protect you and your family from dangerous critters creeping into homes throughout the pandemic.
Rats are carriers of a variety extremely dangerous illnessesCredit: Caters News Agency
In the wild, rats will eat anything they can get their claws on from grains and nuts to fruit and bugs.
But in built-up areas, rats seek out sugar and protein-rich food to feast on from bins… or stockpiles in homes.
And where these rodents go, dangerous infections follow.
“They carry leptospirosis which is known as Weil’s disease,” Peter explains.
“Eighty per cent of mice carry that and 40 per cent of rats carry it. People think mice are a lot better, but in some ways mice are more dangerous.”
What is Weil’s Disease?
Weil’s disease, also called Leptospirosis, is an infection spread in the urine of infected animals – most commonly rats, but also in pigs, cattle, and dogs.
- Symptoms include a high fever, chills, sudden headaches, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle pain – particularly in the calves and lower back, conjunctivitis, a cough and a short-lived rash.
- It attacks the kidney and liver, before eating its way through your other organs.
- People most at risk are those who work with or near animals, or near water. So farmers, vets, and butchers are at risk, along with pest controllers, sewer workers and people who take part in water sports.
If you develop a flu-like illness seven to 12 days after contact with fresh surface water or with rats, visit your GP and explain you may have been exposed to the disease.
Once vermin are in the house, homeowners often don’t realise they have an infestation until it’s too lateCredit: SWNS:South West News Service
And it’s not just Weil’s disease that vermin can bring into your homes.
“Mice also carry a virus which a man in China just died of called hantavirus, which is primarily an American virus but it’s a new virus in the UK,” Peter explains.
“Mice in the UK have been found to have that virus.”
People infected with hantavirus will show symptoms including fever, bleeding and kidney damage, according to experts from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Early symptoms can also include exhaustion, vomiting and reddish cheeks.
“On top of what’s going around at the moment, it’s even more important to eliminate rodents and not let them run riot,” Peter says.
“If you get coronavirus and then get something from rats as well, it might be trickier to cure.”
Wheelie bins overflowing with fresh food – huge amounts of extra household waste are being generated as many people are isolated or working from homeCredit: @AtwalAjit
Brits have slammed selfish panic-buyers who have dumped potatoes in bins during the lockdown today tooCredit: @jimbo_imr/Twitter
Stockpiling throughout lockdown has another problem for attracting pests — we’re all creating more household waste because people have been buying more fresh food than they can eat.
And the problem of rubbish piling up outside our homes is made even worse by councils cutting back on bin collection services during the pandemic.
Another bin full of bread, potatoes, fruit and vegetablesCredit: @jimbo_imr/Twitter
“We will accumulate more household rubbish, which might invite many different pests,” says Jordan Foster, a pest control technician with Fantastic Services.
“We will eventually leave more crumbs and other food products all around the house. Mostly because we are binge-watching TV and are having snacks on the sofa and so on.
“So, be safe, but most of all, be smart and keep your property in neat condition because for now, it is your fortress.”
Plagues of ants come creeping inside in search of high sugar food in suburban areasCredit: Getty Images – Getty
But it’s not just rats and mice that you need to keep an eye out for if you’re stockpiling.
Armies of ants will be drawn to the food and there’s a particularly high chance of that happening as the weather gets warmer.
“Surplus food can attract ants as well, while it’s also likely that warmer weather is creating favourable conditions for insects,” says Paul Blackhurst, Head of the Technical Academy at Rentokil Pest Control.
“Most garden ants are content living outside, where their main food source is sugary secretions from sap-sucking insects like aphids.
Ants will often emerge between the cracks to find and carry food
Paul Blackhurst, Head of the Technical Academy at Rentokil Pest Control
“However, some may enter houses in search of sugary deposits from fruit or food.
“This is particularly common in urban areas, where ants tend to build their nests outside buildings.”
Paul recommends finding out where the insects are emerging and then tackling them with poison if you have a problem.
“Most patios are laid on sand, and ants will often emerge between the cracks to find and carry food,” he says.
“By watching where the ants disappear into the crack, you’ll be able to locate the nest — and have a place to aim that ant killer powder before the problem escalates any further.”
How to fight back
Rats often come into buildings through gaps in brickwork that homeowners might not realise they haveCredit: Getty – Contributor
If you’ve stocked up on large amounts of food, there are simple things you can do to keep the pests at bay.
Make sure to plug any holes on the outside of your house which pests could exploit to get inside.
And take care so that the food you do have is kept securely.
“Keep it in metal containers or plastic containers and keep an eye on it regularly to make sure nothing’s got into it,” Peter says.
“Don’t just leave it out of sight. The key thing is to check it on a regular basis.
“Have a process where you’re checking at least every three days to have a look around for droppings, urine, and chewed or damaged products.
“If you’re not doing that, by the time you notice it’ll be too late anyway.”