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Adam Carace of Pest-End Exterminators, which services accounts in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and southern Maine, shares the story of an elderly couple who lived in a house that the wife had made home to an enormous population of rat “pets.” She fed and cared for dozens of them, and stored 50 or so rat corpses in Tupperware containers on the back porch. Carace’s only choice for ridding the house of rats was calling the health department for support. The couple had no sense of the health dangers associated with living with rodents.

David Marshall of Arizona Pest Squad tells a similar story: He called the health department when a customer whose home was crawling with rats refused to acknowledge the dangers of allowing these rodents to live and breed there.

“He had a serious infestation in his attic, and live rats stuck to glueboards throughout the house,” Marshall explains. “I explained to him the health dangers to his children and himself, as well as their neighbors. He didn’t take it seriously until a representative from the health department showed up. It took a court order to get the place cleaned up.”

Unfortunately, these stories (Tupperware aside) aren’t that unusual. Many people simply don’t understand the health implications of rats and other rodents. Only 28 percent of the PMPs PCT surveyed for last year’s State of the Rodent Market report, sponsored by Bell Laboratories, believe that the public understands that rodents can carry human disease, only 18 percent say that people recognize that rodent hairs and feces can contaminate food, and a mere 12 percent report that the public views rodents as a source of allergens and asthma triggers.

Educating customers is always a responsibility for PMPs. In the case of rodents, communicating the dangers is paramount to public health and safety.