“There is an aspect to the devastation of New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities,” says Leonard Douglen, executive director of the New Jersey Pest Management Association, ”that must not be overlooked. It is the need to deal with an insect and rodent pest populations that are going to explode, creating the potential for the spread of disease that rivals the polluted waters.”
Douglen urges the state and federal government authorities in charge of evacuating the human population of New Orleans and tending to the needs of other affected Gulf Coast cities “to undertake a major pesticide spraying program in order to exterminate a massive outbreak of mosquitoes, major vectors for the spread of diseases that include Malaria and West Nile Fever, along with other insect pest populations.”
The conditions for the breeding of billions of mosquitoes are ideal says Douglen. “Unless the troops, police, contractors and others in the affected areas are protected against the mosquitoes, we could see significant outbreaks of disease among them.” Stinging insects such as wasps, Yellow Jackets, and others will return in force as well.
Douglen also warns against “a huge population increase among rats. “Not only do they now have access to vast supplies of food and ample harborage among abandoned homes and other structures, but rats under these circumstances will breed rapidly in response to this favorable environment.” Mathematically, a single pair of rats has the potential of producing 359 million descendents in just three year’s time.
“The current population of rats in the affected areas can reproduce at a rate of an entire new generation within three months. The gestation period is a scant twenty-two days and a female rat will give birth to an average litter of eight. In their brief lifespan of nine months, each will produce an average of twenty new rats,” said Douglen.
The Black Plague of the 1400’s, which killed a third of the population of Europe, was spread by the combination of rats and the parasitic fleas that lived off of them, that transmitted the bubonic plague to humans. As recently as 1994, rats and fleas were responsible for an outbreak of the pneumonic plague in India.
“New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas are going to need to call on members of the pest control industry to launch a major effort to reduce the rat population,” says Douglen, noting that, while mosquito control is largely a state and local function these days, “It appears that state and local government agencies have their hands full dealing with this tragedy. It would be a good idea to authorize pest control companies to begin spraying for mosquitoes or perhaps authorize the Army Engineer Corps to organize this effort.”
Other insect and rodent species, as well as feral animals and other creatures, “should do well in the weeks immediately ahead. New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas are famous for the destruction done in normal times by its termite population. With all the wooden structures that will be left untreated and unattended, there is likely to be a significant growth in the population of this and other wood-destroying insects that survived the flooding”, says Douglen.
“Mother Nature has, for millions of years, insured that insect and rodent pest species have built-in survival capabilities,” says Douglen. “Only the work of pest management professionals has kept them under control, but this function is now threatened by the vast destruction wrought by Katrina. It is imperative that attention be paid and actions taken to insure that the dangers to public health be part of any recovery plan.”