In the United States we tend to take for granted that our favorite restaurant will be rat and roach free, and when a mosquito bites us, we will not be afflicted with malaria. These basic expectations of our way of life are made possible by the hardworking men and women in the pest control industry. As pesticides, and those who utilize them, are often maligned, we should remember that the most dangerous animal in the world is not a lion, a bear, or even a great white shark off the Cape of Good Hope, it is the pesky mosquito. In the mid 1300’s, it is believed that between 75 million and 200 million people died of the Bubonic Plague. This Pestilence, which forever altered the story of the world, was ultimately linked back to fleas on rats, AKA pests out of control.
It is accepted that modern pest control practices have saved millions of lives and prevented disease outbreaks that in generations past would have wiped out many. When discussing pesticide use and safety, it is important to balance legitimate environmental concerns with the also legitimate public health concerns. As a whole, the pest control industry has embraced their role as protectors of the environment, while striving towards public health and safety and an adequate food supply.
Pest Control Statistics
Pest control is a broad term and encompasses many of the undesirables in and about your home. Many traditional pest control companies specialize in the most common general household pests such as roaches, ants, rodents, bed bugs, and termites. Other pest control companies specialize in keeping your lawn, trees, and bushes green, healthy, and pest free. A growing area of interest for many pest control companies is wildlife trapping, removal, and prevention. Squirrels, opossums, racoons, and bats sometimes nest in attics and wall voids. Pest control technicians have the perfect skill set and tools to easily handle these wildlife situations.
According to Fortune Business Insights, globally, in 2019 the pest control market size was 19.73 billion US dollars. By 2027 the global pest control market is projected to reach 31.94 billion US dollars. Rising urbanization and concern over vector-borne diseases are the primary contributing factors to this dramatic rise in the pest control market. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 17% of communicable diseases are vector-borne accounting for more than 7,000,000 deaths per year around the world. The pest control industry’s embrace of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices also accounts for much of this projected growth. IPM teaches pest control professionals to use smart and sustainable practices to solve pest problems while limiting pesticides to strategically placed applications. This revolution away from extraneous indoor pesticide applications, enables homeowners, governments, and industry to feel more comfortable inviting pest control professionals into their domains.
In the United States, COVID-19 correlated with an increased demand in pest control services. With people working from home, more pest problems were encountered that demanded attention. In 2010 United States Pest Control market value was 11.8 billion dollars. The pest control market rapidly grew, and in 2022, the market value of pest control in the United States was 20.3 billion dollars. This growth occurred despite COVID-19, difficulties in hiring and retaining employees, and high inflation. Analysts expect that the growth within the pest control sector will continue into 2023, with revenues projected to be approximately 26.2 billion dollars. Recently, the pest control industry has experienced more growth than many other industries within our economy.
Despite these positive trends in the pest control statistics, like all aspects of the economy, inflationary concerns and labor shortages may impede the expected growth. Many pest control companies dread the idea of raising prices, but the price of fuel, labor, insurance, and necessary supplies all dictate the price quoted to customers. To accommodate these growth goals, many pest control companies are offering additional services which help to minimize pests around the home. For example, pest control companies may begin offering pest exclusion services, termite treatments and prevention, wildlife trapping, or even gutter cleaning.
Health Toll of Common Pests
Many insects that pest control professionals are called upon to treat carry the risk of dangerous diseases, bites, or stings. Ignoring problem pest populations can have a negative impact on your health and that of your family. While many insects are beneficial and should be left alone to play their role in the ecosystem, other insects should be removed to protect your family. Often the decision to live and let live, or take action against an insect species depends upon the specifics of your situation. If a hornet’s nest is on your child’s swing set, you’ll probably have it removed. If the hornet’s nest is high up in a tree in the back 20 acres of your property, you’ll probably leave it alone and wait for it to die out. Allergies, sensitivities, infestation placement, and the time of year all play an important role in this decision.
Bees are the lucky recipient of much goodwill and protection due to their importance as pollinators. Thankfully, the campaign to save the bees has engrained in most Americans the importance of the humble honeybee. Important bee saving measures have been embraced by the pest control industry as our food supply would crumble without the honeybee. However, some situations warrant removing a bee hive to protect your family.
Most bee, wasp, and hornet stings can be taken care of with at home palliative care. However, it is estimated that between 5% and 7% of Americans are allergic to the venom injected when a bee stings you. This allergy will result in an anaphylactic reaction, causing swelling of the throat, difficulty swallowing, and difficulty breathing. This life-threatening reaction sends thousands of people to the emergency room each year. Anaphylactic reaction is easily reversible if a dose of epinephrine is quickly administered. If you have ever experienced this type of reaction to a bee or wasp sting, chances are high (60-70%) that it will occur again should you be stung again.
Data from the CDC shows that between 2000 – 2017 approximately 1,109 Americans died as a result of a bee or wasp sting, for an average of 62 deaths per year. 80% of those that died were males. Some people argue that this number is artificially low as some bee sting deaths may be attributed to a heart attack or stroke.
Mosquitos spread some of the world’s most deadly and debilitating diseases. They are responsible for more human death any other animal known to ever exist. Yet, they are a vital part of the food web. Mosquitoes’ main source of food and energy is nectar from flowers, therefore they too are pollinators. In addition, mosquitos are an important source of food for many fish, bats, and dragonflies.
However, worldwide mosquitos are much more than the irritation and itch producer that they are here in the United States. Mosquitos spread malaria, which is a parasite that is transferred to humans when the female mosquito bites. Despite advancements in pest control methods and medical malaria prevention, throughout the world approximately 241 million people were diagnosed with malaria in 2020. Most of the world’s 627,000 deaths during 2020 were children in sub-Saharan Africa. This heartbreaking statistic reminds us that the battle against mosquito-borne diseases and parasites is not won, even though it is rarely a concern in a United States suburban neighborhood.
Other mosquito-borne diseases that devastate populations globally are: • Dengue Fever • Chikungunya • Eastern Equine Encephalitis • St. Louis Encephalitis • West Nile Virus • Yellow Fever • Zika Virus Mosquito bites are also responsible for the risk of heart worms to your pet. Thankfully, preventative treatments for heart worms are available from your veterinarian to prevent your pet from needlessly suffering.
The fact that these most of these devastating diseases are hardly on our radar here in the United States reminds us to be grateful for developments in many industries that have mostly alleviated these concerns in the industrialized world.
Rodents spend their time in sewers, trash, back alleys, and subway stations. They scurry, crawl, and nest through the filthiest places we humans have created. As a result, there are over 35 diseases that rodents are known to spread to humans. Rodents can directly spread diseases to humans, but also indirectly by carrying fleas, ticks, and mites, into our homes, offices, restaurants, and public spaces. Disease can spread from rat to human when you accidentally touch rat urine or feces, eating food contaminated with this waste, or breathing air that is polluted with rodent waste.
Many of the diseases that rodents spread are fairly rare in the United States. However, rats appear to be on the rise. New York City seems to be experiencing a tangible influx in the rodent population. Dr. Robert Corrigan, the nation’s most renowned rodentologist, argues that rats are on the rise in New York City, but it is difficult to put an exact number on the percentage of increase. With the city’s new rat czar job position only recently being filled, and the bustling city’s trash piled high on the sidewalk, cases of rat-borne diseases are on the rise.
In September of 2021, New York City issued a statement informing residents that 14 people had already been diagnosed with leptospirosis that year. Of the 14 people, 13 were hospitalized for liver and kidney failure, 2 had severe lung disease, and 1 person died of the disease. Leptospirosis is spread to humans by contact with rat urine. Rats do not have control over their urine, nor do they have a specific place within their nest to release their waste. Instead, they nearly constantly urinate and defecate as they scurry about your home, on your counter, in your pantry, in your attic insulation, or the basement wall.
Without aggressive rodent control programs, rats flourish. Rats reproduce quickly and often. Female rats typically give birth 6 times per year, with an average of 5-10 baby rats. In less than 2 months, these babies reach sexual maturity and begin having babies of their own. Female rats can be ready to breed again even the same day they give birth! This rapid life cycle causes exponential increases in rat populations unless measures are taken to disrupt this progression.
According to the CDC the most common rat-borne diseases include:
Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
Rat Bite Fever
When assessing a rodent control program, an honest evaluation of the risks from rodents should be conducted. Most people agree that a rat inside your home is a valid reason to act. But, think about the larger picture. Do local governments and businesses have a compelling interest in keeping the rat population in check? I would argue yes, as unchecked rodent populations can become a health hazard and a safety to the citizens.
Cockroaches are another example of how pests affect public health. When cockroaches live and reproduce within kitchen cabinets and bathroom drawers, most people view this with a certain fear of the pest or simply as foul and revolting intrusion into their home. No one wants cockroaches scurrying across your plates or toothbrush in the dead of the night; after all cockroaches are known to carry bacteria and pathogens. In truth, cockroach infestations carry significant health risks. For those whom professional cockroach control is unattainable, cockroach infestations can affect their health every single day.
Up to 60% of big city dwellers who have asthma also have an allergy to cockroaches. Asthma, an already dangerous condition, is exacerbated by cockroach allergens within many urban homes and apartment buildings. Many studies show that children with asthma who are exposed to cockroaches need to go to the hospital more often than asthmatic children who are not exposed to cockroaches. Because of their developing immune system, it is usually the children in these cockroach laden environments that suffer the most. Roaches are consummate survivors. When cockroach infestation levels are high and food is scarce, roaches will even eat the eyelashes, eyebrows, and fingernails of sleeping children.
Common cockroach allergy symptoms include:
Itchy, red or watery eyes
Itchy nose, mouth or throat
Postnasal drip (a flow of mucus from behind your nose into your throat)
Itchy skin or skin rash
If your cockroach allergy triggers your asthma, you may also experience:
Chest tightness or pain
A whistling or wheezing sound when breathing out
Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
German cockroaches are small roaches that under certain conditions, seem to multiply by the day. German roaches reproduce quickly and often require professional assistance to fully eradicate the infestation. Unlike larger cockroaches, like American cockroaches or Australian cockroaches, German roaches find everything they need to reproduce indoors. As they progress through their life stages, they leave behind feces, egg casings, saliva, exoskeletons, and even carcasses of dead cockroaches. Specific proteins in these discarded body parts trigger allergies and even asthma. In situations where the roach infestation is severe, these proteins are spread through the house as the roaches accumulate in cracks and crevices. These allergens become airborne and circulated throughout the home where they are inhaled by all of the inhabitants.
In addition to the allergies and asthma risk posed by cockroaches, they are known spreaders of disease and bacteria. There is a reason the health department inspects for roach infestations and shuts down restaurants that are experiencing a roach infestation. Roaches are a danger to public health. As roaches dart about at night seeking food and a safe space, they may accumulate pathgens on their feet and legs. When they finally decide to cozy up in the cabinet where your plates are kept, they may spread this bacteria to your clean plate. When food is served on this contaminated plate, you have inadvertently ingested the illness-causing pathogen that the roach picked up from the trash can or other filth.
Roaches are known to contribute to the spread of many diseases, but the following are the most common:
Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria are normally found in the intestines of healthy people and animals. E.coli is spread by unknowingly ingesting contaminated fecal material. Some strains of this bacteria can cause diarrhea and stomach discomfort. According to the CDC, other strains of E. coli can cause more surprising symptoms such as urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, and pneumonia.
Salmonellosis – The CDC estimates that the Salmonella bacteria is responsible for 1.35 million infections, 26,500 hospitalizations, and 420 deaths in the United States every year. How many of these instances are attributed to cockroaches is unknown, but roaches are most certainly involved in the dissemination of “food poisoning.” Common symptoms of Salmonella involve diarrhea, stomach cramping, vomiting, and fever. Symptoms can range from mild discomfort to hospitalization and death for the elderly or immune compromised.
Staphylococcus aureus, is a bacteria which sometimes causes infections which do not respond to traditional antibiotic treatments. A study performed in 2019 analyzed both German cockroaches and American cockroaches collected in the presumably pristine hospital environment. Antibiotic resistant strains were found in the guts of 52.77% of the American roaches collected and 43.33% of the German roaches collected.
Cockroaches are thriving living in close proximity to humans; therefore they are often termed a peridomestic species. As we excavate sewers and subways, they have excelled at using them for food and shelter. As we build large city centers and generate large amounts of trash, they have moved right on in. The goal of smart pest control is not to eradicate all cockroaches from environment. With modernized Integrated Pest Management (IPM) procedures, cockroaches can be controlled on the inside and kept outdoors where they fill a role in the ecosystem. Cockroaches should be viewed as more than a phobia or emotional reaction. With their link to serious bacterial diseases, allergies, and asthma, they are a public health hazard and should be treated as such.
Economic Impact of Common Pests
Sometimes in our comfortable middle class suburban bubble, we can forget that pest control is more than fretting about the trail of ants on your bathroom counter. Insect pests cause serious economic damage to many sectors of the economy. As farmers attempt to feed the world’s population, they are on the battlefield against insect pests. Termites can cause significant damage to homes and businesses which is often NOT covered by insurance. Restaurant owners expend limited resources to keep rats and roaches at bay. Hotel owners must factor bed bug prevention and treatment into their budgets. Food supplies, damage to structures, costs incurred to safely do business, and lost revenues when pest issues spiral out of control, accumulate to pest control and prevention to have a major impact on the global economy.
For home-owners and business-owners, termites are likely to be the greatest economic risk associated with insect pests. In areas of our country where termites are common, it is generally accepted that most homes will be affected by termites at some time. Termites damage approximately 600,000 homes per year in the United States. Between repairing termite damage, treating active termite infestations, and preventing termite colonies from accessing your home, Americans spend approximately $5 billion dollars per year. When termite damage is found, a home-owner spends on average $3,000 to repair the damage This data is several years old, so with the increase in cost of building supplies in recent years these numbers are more likely about $10,000 or more in today’s dollars. Keep in mind, there are plenty of situations where serious structural damage has occurred and the cost is even much higher.
To avoid serious structural failure due to termites, proactively take annual preventative measures. A trustworthy and competent pest control company can inspect your home and offer an assessment of your termite risks. Depending on your area, you may have little to no risk. But, if you are in a Formosan termite infested zone, you should be more cautious. Formosan termite colonies are large and aggressive. They can cause significant damage to your home in just a few years. Different species of termites have vastly different treatment methods. Since the integrity of your home is on the line, it is imperative that the termite job is done correctly. Treating termites early in their meal reduces the likelihood that you will have extensive damage. Depending upon the type of termite infestations, there are many treatment options, many of which are considered green and eco-friendly.
Farmers Battling Against Pests and Our Food Supply and Cost
Farmers have battled insect pests since the advent of farming ancient farming practices. Farmers continue to struggle against both native and invasive species which affects food prices and availability. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that insect pests cost the global economy approximately $80 billion dollars per year, and approximately 40% of crops grown around the world are lost to insect pests and plant diseases.
Compounding the effects of Covid-19, in 2020 – 2021, a locust plague of Biblical proportion swept through Africa decimating and ravaging grazing lands and farms. These locust swarms have as many as 80,000 locusts. Each swarm consumes as much food as 35,000 humans per day. In these already food scarce communities, these locusts make starvation a very real risk for as many as 5 million people.
Throughout the world, controlling pests is central to food production and human health. Feeding the world is a job that requires balancing the nutritional needs of humans with the Earth and the ecosystem in general. Controlling pests that devastate food supplies is a necessary and proper use of pesticides.
Bed bugs have plagued humans since the dawn of civilization. It is believed that bed bugs originally inhabited caves and fed on bats for sustenance. However, as humans sought shelter in the caves, bed bugs began to feed on humans. Thus began the relationship between humans and bed bugs. The Greeks and Romans both despised bedbugs and simultaneously used them for medicinal purposes in tinctures and cocktail “cures.” In the centuries that followed, bed bugs travelled the world and ultimately inhabited all of Europe and Asia. They hitchhiked across the Atlantic aboard colonial ships and promptly settled into the seaport cities which were busy with trade and commerce. Bed bugs were an irritating part of life; people went to extreme and dangerous measures for a bug free night’s sleep. Some early bed bug treatments include treating the cracks and crevices of beds with arsenic, sulfur, boiling water, pyrethrum powder, or coating the bed frame with bacon grease.
In the early 1900’s when central heat become commonplace, bed bugs became even more prolific. Much energy and resources were devoted to getting rid of bed bugs. In the early 20th century, the most common and effective treatment for bed bugs was a fumigation with hydrocyanide gas. This dangerous gas causes one to fall unconscious within seconds and causes death within minutes; however it was the best option until DDT. DDT protected soldiers in WWII from diseases carried by lice, fleas, and mosquitos. After testing on bedbugs, the USDA said in 1945 that DDT was, “the perfect answer to the bed bug problem.” In addition to being absolutely lethal to bed bugs, DDT was readily available to the public and was relatively inexpensive. In fact, DDT was so effective against bedbugs, within 5 years of widespread usage, bed bugs were all but eradicated. Bed bugs did begin to show signs of resistance to DDT, but in 1972 the United States banned DDT because it takes many years to break down in the environment.
After a brief reprieve from biting bugs in bed, bed bugs have come back with a vengeance. Bed bugs are expert hitchhikers. With the ease and convenience of international travel, bed bugs were reintroduced into America’s big city resorts. From there, they were carried across America in one briefcase or duffel bag at a time. Currently, bed bugs are found from sea to shining sea. Bed bugs do not discriminate, anyone is susceptible to an infestation. Public awareness campaigns and education is imperative if we are to gain the upper hand from bed bugs again. Catching bed bug infestations early is key. Periodic checks of the mattress, bed frame, and the bed side table can help to keep a bed bug introduction from turning into a full-blown infestation.
There are many tools in the pest control professional’s toolbox when dealing with bed bugs. Just as resistance was observed to DDT in the 1950’s, bed bugs have quickly become resistant to many of the chemicals that have been recently thrown at them. Insecticide resistance is similar to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Similar to the way antibiotics are no longer effective against certain germs, some insects become “immune” to certain insecticides. With this new superpower, they procreate and their bed bug babies can likely resist the same insecticides. Insecticide resistance is a world-wide problem. It is an issue with not only bed bugs, over 500 species of insect pests have shown resistance to common chemicals including many species of roaches and fleas.
Insecticide resistance has led to creative, effective, non-chemical pest control solutions… especially in the bed bug realm. In addition to chemical control, there are many effective non-chemical control for bed bugs including heat treatments, cryogenic freezing treatments, and even biopesticides. Educating consumers and raising awareness of bed bug conducive conditions is fundamental to success. With greater access to travel than ever before, more belongings in our homes for which bed bugs to hide, and resistance to traditional pesticides, bed bugs have proven to be a challenge. However, with research based innovation and new scientific product development, the professionals in pest control will answer the bed bug call with safe and effective treatments.
Advancements in Pesticides
Balancing environmental concerns with human health and safety is a potentially divisive issue. For a pesticide to be approved for use in the United States, the EPA must thoroughly evaluate the product, including its effectiveness against the target pest, the possible health and safety ramifications of the product, and the environmental impact of the product. As the chemical sciences has progressed, the safety of the approved products has increased as well. We have moved well beyond the days of indiscriminately applying DDT to every bug that bothers.
Scientists now develop pesticides which can target specific insects and allow for lower volume of use yet have greater efficiency. According to the EPA, nanopesticides “show remarkable advantages over conventional pesticides.” Nanopesticides are pesticides which may contain particles which are smaller than 100 nanometers in size. Scientists can adapt these extremely tiny particles to react in very specific ways. Potentially, nanopesticides adhere better to the applied surface, which allows for the use of less pesticide. The active ingredient can also be encapsulated to control its release into the environment. Nanopesticides can be developed to target individual organisms which prevents fallout for non-target organisms. This technology shows great promise, but as with all new technology and science, it takes time to fully understand the ramifications of this new tool. The EPA is developing testing and approval procedures for new pesticides that utilize this and other similar technologies.
As a whole, pesticides are becoming safer for people and pets and more targeted against the target pests. By using safer pesticides and greater implementation of Integrated Pest Management Principles, the pest control industry as a whole has embraced their role as protector of both people’s health and the environment.