Dealing with pests during disaster

It is during times of disaster that things are always guaranteed to become more difficult, never easier. One factor that pushes the envelope even further is the loss of many of the typical comforts we enjoy in our day-to-day lives like climate controlled living areas, electricity, running water and so much more.

An area that I always think of in this regard is the introduction of pests that can happen when living areas must be opened up to get fresh air or in an effort to maintain comfortable temperatures inside. While a sealed home usually mitigates the number of creatures that make it inside, the removal of common barriers like doors and windows sometimes allow unwanted visitors inside.

As can usually be expected of me, the list I have compiled below is not all-inclusive. There are many pests that can be found across the world and some of them are only common to small geographic areas. One thing to keep in mind is that it is practically impossible to completely eradicate any pest from a general area. Your efforts should be on keeping pests away from living quarters, supplies and equipment.

Here are a few of the pests that are very common across the United States.


Prevention: There is a single solution that will help keep all insects, regardless of variety, from entering a place where they are not welcome and that is window screens and screen doors that are free of holes.

A primary means of preventing mosquitoes comes from eliminating their breeding grounds, which is any area of standing water. Any containers that collect water and are left out in the open should be turned upside down when not in use to prevent water collection and if the water is needed for animals or some other purpose, then it should be emptied and refilled routinely.

Any breeze that is faster than 1 mile per hour is said to be enough to keep mosquitoes from flying. These flying biters are attracted to CO2 as a way to identify food sources. Elevated heart rate, exercise, drinking alcohol, eating spicy foods, as well as being overweight or pregnant are things that up your chances of being a feast for mosquitoes.

Store bought solutions that are reported as not being too helpful include citronella candles and torches but bug spray containing DEET is helpful in keeping these buggers away.

Treatment: If you find yourself the recipient of a mosquito bite, make sure to wash the area with soap and clean water, apply calamine or anti-itch cream, put a cold compress on the bite and take an antihistamine.


Prevention: Screened openings in windows and doors might help but arachnids also will take advantage of any weaknesses in your perimeter like holes in the wall, cracks between the floor and wall or ceiling and wall or cracks in the floor and ceiling.

A universal principle of pest prevention is to remove the reason that the pest may want to come inside. In the case of spiders, this could mean aggressively removing other insects so that spiders do not have anything to eat inside of your living space.

Additionally, if there are openings in the floor, walls, ceiling or roof that might make it seem to a pest like there is an open invitation inside, consider closing up those gaps to prevent creepy crawling things from joining you indoors.

Essential oils such as peppermint, tea tree, rose, cinnamon, citrus, citronella, lavender and eucalyptus are all useful in repelling spiders while cedar, citrus peels, chestnuts, tobacco and borax are also viable options.

Treatment: The severity of spider bites will vary based on the spider but, with the exception of the black widow and brown recluse (two of the most common poisonous spiders in the United States), the average spider bite can be treated by following a few basic steps.

  1. Washing the area with soap and clean water.
  2. Apply a cold compress to the area.
  3. Elevate the bite area if it is on an extremity.
  4. Take medication as needed (anti-inflammatory, antihistamine or pain reliever).
  5. Watch for any signs of infection or other problem.


Prevention: There are many suggested ways to prevent flies from occupying your home. The methods that are supported as the most effective are:

  • Placing several whole cloves into a lemon that has been cut in half.
  • Planting or placing aromatic herbs like lavender, basil or mint in the area.
  • Filling a bowl ¾ of the way full with apple cider vinegar and add a single drop of dish soap on top. The flies will land on the surface and the dish soap gives unpredictably, causing the fly to fall into the vinegar.
  • Fly swatters!
  • Sliced cucumber will repel flies.
  • Cinnamon air fresheners.

Treatment: Bites from flies are not necessarily common but they can be treated by cleaning the area, applying ice to the area and, if the symptoms of a bit are persistent, medications like antihistamines and topical steroids can be used.


Prevention: The best way to prevent bees from coming inside is by having screens on all windows and doors. Keeping exterior areas clean of clutter and potential hiding places will go a long way in keeping bees away. If you live in a rural area, having bee hives can give bees a place to live and work without having to bother your home at all. Of course, there are bee traps that are available if you are interested in trapping and killing bees but they are amazing pollinators so I don’t care for the idea myself.

Treatment: Bees can be a danger to those who have allergies to them. For those who are allergic to bees, a simple sting can induce a reaction in the body known as anaphylaxis where the a sting causes an itchy rash, rapid swelling of the tongue and throat, increased heart rate, difficulty breathing or tightness in the chest, lightheadedness and even vomiting or low blood pressure.

If you have a confirmed allergy or have experienced any of these symptoms after a sting or bug bite, it is worth speaking to your doctor about getting a prescription for an epinephrine auto-injector (commonly referred to as an Epi-Pen).

There are many home remedies for bee stings that are shared across the country but there are some universal suggestions that I would recommend always following, if possible, that include removing the stinger, washing the area with soap and clean water and applying ice or cold water to the area. Other treatments might include the application of mustard, honey, apple cider vinegar, toothpaste or my personal favorite that I swear by which is using a paste made of baking soda and water.


Prevention: Commercial wasp traps are very helpful in catching and killing these unfriendly insects. Fresh cut herbs or oils can be a deterrent while mint, rosemary, geranium or citronella is thought to be especially effective. Similar to bees, taking away potential nesting and living areas that wasps might use is a great prevention strategy. If you see a wasp’s nest and can safely knock it down, do so, and then step on it to kill anything inside.

Treatment: Just like bees, wasps can cause allergic reactions in a person that can result in anaphylaxis. If you have an allergy to wasps, you should have a prescription for an Epi-Pen. Following a sting, wash the area with soap and water and apply ice to the area. The application of mustard, honey, apple cider vinegar, toothpaste or a paste made of baking soda and water can be helpful as well.

Gophers and moles

Prevention: Keeping gophers and moles away can be difficult. I remember my dad and our neighbor spending countless hours outside as a child trying to get rid of the moles and gophers that plagued our properties.

Placing newspapers down as mulch in bedding areas can help prevent gophers from coming to the surface but will not completely get rid of them. Planting gopher plant (Euphorbia lathyris) can help to deter gophers and moles in the area.

Other things that can help turn away these tunnel-digging creatures include planting daffodils, scilla and the castor-oil plant. Compacting the soil where these animal tunnel and mound can also discourage their activity. A solution of two parts castor oil and one part liquid detergent can be measured out into two tablespoons that can be diluted into 1 gallon of water and used to saturate the area around their mounds.

Before completely getting rid of moles, ensure that they are actually causing you a problem because they can be quite effective at eliminating other pests to your garden and plant lifelike grubs, insects and snails.

Treatment: In the extremely unlikely chance that you are bitten or scratched by a mole or gopher, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment, dress your wounds and watch for signs of infection.

Rats and mice

Prevention: Like most pests, rats and mice will effortlessly seek and find anything that can be a food source to them. Removing a potential mouse or rat food source will go a long way in making sure that you do not find them running around. If basic sanitation practices are followed, mice and rats will most likely leave you alone.

Food, water and shelter are what these creatures seek. Clean up and properly dispose of trash, properly package edible foods and seeds/grains and remove any openings that might allow a mouse or rat into, or under, your area.

Of course, the standard rat and/or mousetrap, as well as readily available poisons are relatively cheap and can be quite effective in dispatching any unwanted rodents that might be found crawling along the base of your walls.

Treatment: It is always possible that a mouse or rat could bite or scratch you. If this were to occur, immediate action is necessary. Approximately 10 percent of rat and mice bites result in an infection of some type. Because mice and rats are carriers of many diseases, it is important to think about seeking the care of a health care provider.

The most common type of infection that results from a rodent bite is rat bite fever that presents with fever, vomiting, headache, pain in the back and joints, as well as rash on the hands and feet that is usually accompanied by at least one large joint.

No matter what, any mouse or rat bite should be treated by cleaning it thoroughly with soap and water, applying antibiotic ointment to the area, dressing the wound and monitoring for signs of infection.

Treat all rat and mouse bites seriously as most infections caused by them can be easily treated with antibiotics but can also be fatal if left untreated.

Squirrels and chipmunks

Prevention: If you don’t want squirrels or chipmunks bothering you, a cat or dog can go a long way to keep them away from your property. Even if you don’t have a cat or dog, spreading the hair of cats, dogs or humans around the area can help keep them at bay. A spray consisting of pureed and strained hot peppers mixed with water and a tablespoon of liquid soap can also be effective at cutting down on their presence.

Treatment: It is uncommon for squirrels or chipmunks to bite and/or scratch a human, but that does not mean that it can’t happen. If you are the recipient of such an attack, immediately clean the area with soap and water, apply antibiotic ointment and dress your wounds. If the injury is severe, apply pressure to the wound and seek immediate medical assistance. The same should be done if there is any concern of rabies.


Prevention: These are smart creatures, and they typically only sneak about under the cover of darkness which can make keeping them away extra challenging. Keeping trash bagged up and inside of a bin or enclosed area is a great measure to ensure that raccoons don’t come looking for an easy meal.

They will also help themselves to the food of your pets and livestock if it is easily accessible. If it can be helped, don’t give your animals more than they can eat in one feeding. Also, leaving your dirty clothing in areas where you would like to keep raccoons away can be helpful because of the human scent on them. Baby powder and hot peppers seem to be useful as well.

If all else fails, a raccoon fence can be erected where fine mesh or chicken wire fencing that is at least 4 feet tall is put up and the last 12-18 inches are left unattached and bent outward to keep the raccoons from being able to climb all the way to the top.

Treatment: While they are not the only animals that can carry rabies, raccoons are definitely a serious source of the disease. Signs of a rabid raccoon include a lack of awareness to movement and sounds, discharge coming from the mouth and eyes, recurring high-pitched sounds coming from the animal, wandering erratically (sometimes appearing as repeatedly walking in circles) and/or a staggering gait. If you actually receive a bite from a raccoon, seek medical attention after thoroughly washing the area with copious amounts of soap and water. If medical attention is not available, apply antibiotic ointment, dress your wounds and monitor for signs of infection or illness.

Stray pets

Prevention: The best way to keep stray pets from coming around is to remove easy access to any potential food source for them. Of course, pet food might be the obvious answer here but you should also consider whether or not you have other inviting food sources like chicken, rabbits, etc. Always encourage stray animals to leave the area and don’t give them any attention if you don’t want them to hang around. Animals will act to protect themselves if they feel boxed in from a confrontation. The best way to prevent an unwanted bite or attack from a cat or dog is to not put them in a position where they will feel like they have to attack you.

Treatment: While it is possible to contract something like rabies from an animal bite, it is not incredibly likely from domesticated animals. If you are scratched or bitten by a cat or dog, thoroughly wash the area with plenty of soap and water, apply an antibiotic ointment to the area, dress the wound and reapply ointment and change the dressing regularly while remembering to monitor the area for signs of infection. If the injury is traumatic, every effort should be made to stop the bleeding and seek immediate medical attention. In the case of an attack from a stray animal, seeking medical treatment should always be considered because of not knowing the history or health status of the animal.

With any animal encounter that results in a bite or scratch, it is always recommended to wash the area thoroughly with soap and water. If for some reason this is not an option, consider using hydrogen peroxide, iodine or alcohol as alternatives. The latter option will not likely feel very good and should be considered a last resort for most of us.

Watching for the signs and symptoms of infection is something that should always be considered as well. According to the Centers for Disease Control, these include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweats
  • Change in cough or a new cough.
  • Sore throat or a new mouth sore.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nasal congestion.
  • Stiff neck.
  • Burning or pain with urination.
  • Unusual genital discharge or irritation.
  • Increased urination.
  • Redness, soreness or swelling in any area.
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal or rectal pain.
  • Any new onset of pain that can’t otherwise be explained.

If you do not have a current tetanus shot in the last 10 years, make every effort to get a tetanus booster shot.

Medical treatment should always be considered if it is available. While there are certainly minor injuries or wounds that don’t require anything more than care at home, if there is any question, it is always best to be cautious and seek the professional expertise of a health care provider.


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