What do cockroaches, rats, mice, birds, and bats all have in common? They can invade our homes, offices, pipes, barns or other out-buildings and leave behind waste in the form of feces, urine, insect parts, hair, and carcasses. They are also considered vectors capable of transmitting disease or causing harm to people and/or animals. If you work in a situation where you may be exposed to vector waste (agriculture, landscaping, construction, warehousing, janitorial services, etc.) make sure you have been trained to recognize these signs of waste and have been instructed to report them to your supervisor for proper cleanup and disposal.
Cockroach feces, saliva, and body parts and mouse and rat urine contain proteins that can dry up, become airborne, and create allergy symptoms in humans. The symptoms include itchy skin and eyes, a scratchy throat and nose, and with increased exposure, severe asthma. In addition, some mice and rat species, through their urine, droppings, and saliva spread hantavirus, a disease that can cause severe respiratory distress and death.
Birds and bats often roost together in large numbers. The buildup of their droppings, carcasses, and debris can host mites, funguses, and bacteria that can cause disease in humans. Symptoms of these diseases range from loss of appetite and headaches to fever, muscle weakness, and chest pain.
Prevention is preferred, but when vector waste is found, it should only be removed or cleaned by someone trained to do so safely and adequately. If you are responsible for removing and cleaning up vector waste, make sure you’ve been trained in its potential hazards and take the proper precautions to protect your health and safety. Precautions may include airing out an enclosed space for at least 30 minutes; wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety glasses, rubber gloves, disposable protective clothing, and rubber boots; and wearing a respirator that is equipped with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter (P100).
Avoid vacuuming, sweeping, dry scooping and pressure washing vector waste, which can create airborne dust. A gentle wet method cleanup is often recommended; using a 10 percent bleach solution to thoroughly soak the entire area and allow it to sit for at least 15 minutes. A rag, sponge, or mop soaked in the bleach solution is then commonly used to wipe up fine debris and to decontaminate any tools and other affected items. Other contaminated debris should be placed in heavy, plastic, double bags by an individual wearing proper personal protective equipment. The debris should then be disposed of in designated trash bins. Lastly, a wet bleach-solution-soaked mop is generally recommended to clean all surfaces.
Proper cleanup can prevent the potential spread of disease or allergens. Other workers who have been exposed to vector waste should shower or thoroughly wash their hands and exposed skin surfaces with soap and hot water. Any contaminated clothing should be washed in hot water separately from other laundry.