RokStories Be Prepared for Rodents This Winter
By Zia Siddiqi, Ph.D., B.C.E., Director of Quality Systems, Orkin, LLC
What happens when rodents make themselves at home inside healthcare facilities?

News travels fast. The news may come in the form of patient and guest complaints and negative online reviews. And if media picks up the story, your reputation could be lost to a wildfire.

A hospital for veterans in Florida came under fire earlier this year for a rodent infestation. The story made national headlines, drawing enough attention that state political figures eventually weighed in. A hospital in Mississippi similarly dealt with rats and mice in its kitchen. In 2014, a hospital in Washington, D.C., faced an infestation of rodents so bad that it was ordered to pay emotional distress damages to a former employee, according to a story in The Huffington Post.

Rodents pose a threat to healthcare facilities year round, but their activity picks up when the temperatures cool off. Much like us, they need food, water and shelter to survive. And like us, warm shelter becomes particularly important during the cold months.

These pests have adapted to live alongside people and exploit their resources. In fact, some mice that take shelter inside due to weather will never leave and will permanently become indoor mice – in Chicago, where Orkin performed more rodent treatments in 2014 than in any other city, many mice have never seen the outside.

Aside from the hits to your reputation and bottom line these pests can take, rodents also pose several health threats. Rats and mice can carry hundreds of pathogens and transmit deadly diseases like lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) and Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome. Ticks, mites and fleas can feed on infected rodents and then can transmit diseases like pox, plague and typhus indirectly to humans, putting patients, guests and your staff at risk.

While rodents are dangerous pests that must be taken seriously, there are solutions that can help prevent these serious problems rodents pose. Proactive facility maintenance, sanitation, rigorous inspections and exclusion practices can help keep rats and mice out of your facility, whether you manage a hospital, nursing home or doctor’s office. Work with a pest management professional to implement a custom Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program for your facility, and follow these guidelines to shut rodents out in the cold this winter.

Know what rodents are looking for – and take it away

Rodents are more like us than we may realize. Just like humans, rats and mice need food, water and safe shelter to survive, and they want a warm place to spend the cold months. To rodents, healthcare facilities look like a five-star hotel, the perfect place to spend the winter.

The plethora of food sources, numerous potential entry points and hiding places in your facility can all be perfect amenities for rodents, which can in turn lead to an infestation. To help keep rodents from getting inside your facility, the first step is to remove incentives for them to want to get inside in the first place.

- Keep kitchens and dining areas clean and free of any food debris – even a few crumbs can make a nice meal for rodents.

- Keep your shipping and receiving doors closed as often as possible, and use a UV black light to inspect incoming shipments for evidence of a rodent infestation. Make sure storage rooms are clean and clear of clutter, and throw away or recycle cardboard boxes immediately – these make for great hiding spots.

- Remind your staff to keep food stored in the break room refrigerator in tightly closed plastic containers and to clean out lockers regularly. Keep break rooms and locker rooms clean and free of clutter.

- Clean drains and equipment with an organic cleaner to eliminate the residue that pests can feed on. Monitor for spills and leaks, especially in restrooms, and clean and repair them immediately.

Take the fight to rodents outside

Rodents can burrow and live up to 100 yards away from your structure, and they don’t need much of an opening to get inside. Rats can squeeze through openings as small as a quarter, and mice can squeeze through holes the size of a dime. This makes exclusion to deny pests entry, one of the tenets of IPM, a top priority.

- Seal cracks and crevices – Regularly inspect the exterior of your facility for any cracks that may develop. Pay close attention to openings that can form around utility penetration points. Seal any holes in exterior walls with water-resistant sealant and steel or metal mesh.

- Close the perimeter – Keep trash handling areas free of clutter, and clean up any uncovered garbage or standing water outside. Also, ask your waste management company to clean and switch your dumpsters regularly. Ask them to monitor for leakage underneath the dumpster that should be cleared as well.

- Keep landscaping clean – Keep trees trimmed and plants at least 12 inches from your building, and rake up leaves quickly so that rodents cannot use them for cover. As an extra step, consider installing a 2-foot wide gravel strip around the perimeter of the building.

- Take a look at your roof – HVAC units are a common culprit for providing pests with water, so be sure that facility maintenance staff conducts regular inspections of these areas, eliminating any potential penetration points. Inspect locations where water often accumulates, including on top of, behind and underneath the units, as well as other hard-to-reach places.

- Work with your pest management provider to place tamper-resistant bait stations around the exterior of the facility. Rodents will feed on the non-toxic bait, which helps indicate activity. Baiting can begin with a non-toxic bait and then be switched to a toxic one if deemed necessary by your pest management provider. Be sure to maintain an up-to-date map and activity report for the bait stations so you can determine the source of rodent pressure and target future treatments accordingly.

Vigilantly monitor pest activity – and know what to look for

You may not see a rodent walking down the middle of a hallway during the day, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t present. Fortunately, they leave calling cards wherever they travel. Knowing the signs of rodent activity can help you stop an infestation before it starts.

- Droppings – Mouse droppings are pointed and about the size of a grain of rice, and rat droppings are about the size and shape of a raisin.

- Gnaw marks – Rodents will gnaw on wires – this can cause electrical fires – as well as sealant, wood and other hard materials. Rodents can enlarge an opening such as a conduit or pipe penetration by gnawing around the edges, so closely inspect any areas in the building that appear to be chewed or gnawed.

- Rub markings – Rodents don’t like to travel in the open, so they will brush up against walls, wiring or pipes as they travel along a path, leaving greasy markings behind.

Train your employees – some pest management providers will train employees at no extra cost – to look for these signs of rodent activity, and make sure to contact your pest management professional immediately if signs of rodent activity are reported. You can assign housekeepers and other staff to look for pests and keep a logbook of sightings and treatments.

Talk with your pest management professional about these steps and other tactics you can put in place to keep your facility safe against rodents and other overwintering pests.

Dr. Zia Siddiqi is Director of Quality Systems for Orkin. A board certified entomologist with more than 35 years in the industry, Dr. Siddiqi is an acknowledged leader in the field of pest management. For more information, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit

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