rodents & children

Safety • Jan 27, 2016

Rodents & Children: The Medical Risks of Mice & Rats

If you have mice in the attic, rats in your crawl space, or rodents anywhere your children go, it’s time to get rid of them. Kids and rodents are a deadly combination, literally. Getting rid of rodents and cleaning up after them is easier than you think. With a few tricks, you can get the job done quickly and safely. I speak from personal experience, having done this both the wrong way and the right way.   

True confession: we’ve had mice in the attic of our suburban home. And our kids were exposed to rats in a mobile home we visit on a country property. A few days after the rat exposure, my 11-year-old developed a fever of 103 for six days. I feared the worst– my mom-pediatrician brain knew he could have rat-bite fever or a fatal rodent-borne illness. I had him evaluated and in the end, he was fine. But in the meantime, I learned the right way to exterminate and clean up after rodents.

After trying no-kill traps, rodent relocation, poison, and multiple brands of kill-traps for both mice and rats, the country mobile home is now rodent-free. While at the American Academy of Pediatrics national conference, I went to lunch with a pediatrician who specializes in rodent-borne illnesses for the CDC. He had very specific recommendations regarding rodent extermination and home sanitization. I’ve summarized what I’ve learned below.

10 Steps to Safely Get Rid of Rodents and Clean Up After Them

  1. First, keep the kids away from the rodents.  If you have mice in your attic or basement, the kids can’t go there. If there are rats in your shed or crawl space or under your mobile home, you need to keep your kids out of these areas.
  2. Next, it’s time to exterminate the rodents.  You have several options:
    • Mouse and Rat Snap-Traps: The old-fashioned Victor snap-traps with peanut butter as bait are still the best option for rodent extermination. Reusable plastic snap-traps are not recommended because of the risk of disease spread while washing or attempting to reuse. They also don’t snap as hard and may be less effective. We tried reusable traps and cheaper disposable wooden rat traps. But only the Victor brand actually caught our rats. You can buy them affordably and in bulk on Amazon and at Walmart.
    • Glue Traps: These can be effective for mice, and sometimes for rats. However, you will probably have to dispose of a live mouse, which puts you at risk for a bite or scratch (and it’s no fun at all).
    • No-kill Traps: These are difficult to use because you have to relocate the rodent at least 2 miles away. And you need to transport and release the rodent without exposing yourself, your children or your car to the diseases these animals carry.
    • Electric mouse and rat traps: These traps electrocute the rodent as soon as they walk into the tunnel-like device to get the bait. They are expensive and many people report they are less effective than snap traps. They are reusable, but any reusable traps may be contaminated with rodent-borne illnesses.
    • Poison: Poison gets a bad rap because owls and other wildlife can die when they eat the poisoned rodents. But if you are exterminating rodents that do not leave your attic or other space, there should be no risk to the owls. Children and pets can also be at risk if exposed to the poison, but hopefully you are keeping your kids and your pets out of the rodent-infested areas. Poison is generally very effective in killing mice and rats. However, it can take several days after ingesting the poison before death. Also, the dead rodents may decompose in your attic, walls, floorboards, HVAC system, or other difficult-to-reach places, causing a horrific stench that is nearly impossible to remedy. There are many brands of rodent poison available, and you will need a type that is specific for the rodent you are exterminating.
  3. Dispose of the dead rodent safely. The CDC is very clear about how to dispose of dead rodents: using gloves, put the dead rodent and disposable snap trap in a plastic bag in a sealed garbage can.
  4. Wear a mask. Be sure to wear a mask so that your nose, mouth, and lungs are not exposed to disease-causing particles.
  5. Don’t vacuum or sweep. Vacuuming or sweeping rodent droppings or dust contaminated with rodent urine can stir up the disease-causing particles and expose you and your family to disease.
  6. Clean all hard surfaces with a bleach-containing solution. Using gloves and paper-towels, use a wet-method approach to cleaning. Spray all contaminated areas with a cleaning agent that contains bleach or a 1/10 solution of bleach and water. Wipe it down with paper towels.
  7. Rent a carpet cleaner and shampoo or steam-clean all carpets and upholstery. It may be hard to use a bleach-containing cleanser on these areas without causing damage. Consider a non-bleach antiseptic agent.
  8. Clean everything you stored in the rodent-infested area. Clothing, bedding, and plush toys should be washed in a washing machine. Hard surfaces of toys and furniture need to be cleaned with a bleach-containing solution.
  9. Check your HVAC system. If you had rodents in your heating and cooling ducts, the CDC recommends professional HVAC cleaning and rodent extermination.
  10. Shower. When you’re done, take a long hot shower and decontaminate yourself. You deserve it. Take a deep breath. You’re done. Keep some extra traps in case you see any more signs of rodents.

Think rodents stink? Actually, the most common pest parents have to deal with isn’t a rodent, it’s pinworms. About 20% of American kids have pinworms. Do your kids have an anal itch? Here’s how to diagnose and permanently get rid of pinworms.