An interruption of trash collection over an extended time may be an issue for communities because of many different species of animals. Animals, both wild and domestic, can spread trash through neighborhoods by foraging activities. Animals (and also insects) are, of course, potential disease vectors (carriers of diseases), including viruses.
The presence of these animals and insects during a pandemic poses many challenges. The season in which a Pandemic might hit a given location will play a large role in the degree to which animals and insects play a role in adversely impacting the health and comfort of a street, neighborhood or city. Before we discuss these impacts, it may help to have an overview of animals and insects that live on or near places where trash accumulates.
In many parts of the Nation, coyotes and raccoons are a common problem wherever trash is set out for pickup in uncovered cans or in plastic bags, even closed plastic bags. Open dumpsters are also a source of food for many birds and animals. Raccoons and opossums live in storm and sewer drains along highways during warmer weather in the Midwest (Southwest Ohio) or year round in the Southwest (California) (personal observation). Raccoons, opossums, rats, coyotes can live in trees and in abandoned buildings and woodpiles. They are a problem because, if trash is left out for an extended time, these animals will transport the debris, making food available for more rats and wild animals and feral pets.
Crows, Seagulls, Blue Jays and other wild birds will also rip open trash bags and/or pick through open bags of trash. This problem is both urban or rural.
In many parts of the country, rats can carry other types of diseases in their urine and/or fecal matter (1). Hantavirus is common in pockets of the Southwest, but has been found in rat urine in New York City. http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/bt/bt_fact_vhf.shtml Rats also can carry diseases in their parasites - in their fleas (2). How much or even whether this could be a side issue of a flu pandemic, is not understood, but should be considered. Could other diseases spread when basic services are interrupted for an extended time?
Arthropods are an important food for many other animals and they return nutrients to the soils, water, and air for life. Arthropods - ‘true’ Arthropods - are animals with legs and a hard exoskeleton. Insects, Lice, Spiders, Centipedes, Ticks, Fleas Insects and their kin can be carriers or vectors. Vectors of disease are organisms, which can be associated with trash because of the accumulation of a food source (in the trash in the bottom of the cans and bottles) or because of the many places to deposit eggs. Trash can be the focal point where host and prey and parasite, food, latrine, and nursery all come together.
The majority of insects do not bother humans. There are, however, a number that do. Some find humans a particularly attractive host and some use us because we are available. There are regional differences of insect populations that use humans as prey – however our national biological ‘regionality’ has been mixed (like a kitchen mixing bowl) because of easy human travel. Eggs, larvae and adults travel on shoes, in clothing, cars, trains, planes, food, plants, and trash.
Ants and flies can, in warmer weather, find food in the food particles left in trash. Although, ants and flies are pests in themselves few species can cause problems. Some parts of the South and Southwest have the very aggressive fire ant (an introduced species), which can swarm with the smallest provocation, and inflict terrible bites and the sting causes welts, which will turn into pustules. Some people can be sensitive to the protein in the venom and can go into anaphylactic shock (3). http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/phpps/pdep/rifa/
Flies can collect bacteria on their feet and transfer them to areas, which may expose people to disease- but very rarely. The main concern is for areas that have rains during warm weather (or if people use sprinklers), which fill cans or lids or other small containers in trash, with water. The amount can be quite small but still can become a breeding ground for mosquitoes and biting midges. http://www.cals.cornell.edu/Vectors_of_Disease.cfm
Fleas are opportunistic and will use mammals (rodents, cats, dogs, humans) and birds - although some are species specific but many will adapt - as a conveyance and food source. Within their gut they can carry other organisms which can be harmful to people. http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2081.htmlbe http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/plague/
Beetles that may venture into heaped trash are generally not a problem for people. There are large beetles that have large mandibles, but they use them for self-protection, for mating and for interspecies dominance. Beetles do not have stingers and some may squirt a smelly or irritating substances to protect themselves from animals that would harm them. There are beetles called bombardier and blister beetles - but here again they use their chemistry for self-protection. http://www.wcsscience.com/bombardier/beetle.html http://www.uky.edu/Agriculture/Entomology/entfacts/fldcrops/ef102.htm
Spiders and centipedes have poison glands in or near their mouth parts. Spiders will mostly be in drier parts of trash, if left out for a long time. Centipedes need more moisture and will more likely be present in the bottom of the trash. There are some spiders that live next to centipedes, but the two species that are important within the US are black widow and Brown recluse (violin) spiders. http://aepo-xdv-www.epo.cdc.gov/wonder/prevguid/m0042059/m0042059.asp Older document on spider bites CDC. http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2061A.html Black widow http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2061.html Brown recluse
The other wild animal that frequents trash are yellow jackets and other wasps. They are foraging for food for their hive or their young. Wasps, and particularly yellow jackets, can be very aggressive and people who are allergic, one sting can be life threatening. http://www.enature.com/fieldguides/detail.asp?recnum=IS0166
If the interruption of collection is for many months, populations of some opportunistic insects will grow. The first months or so will seem to level off, but because of the availability of food, the second ‘wave’ of flies, ants, wasps, beetles will be larger the next season. Even if the trash is eventually removed, flies pupate in the soil, so do ants, wasps and beetles. The organisms that prey on the insects such as spiders, centipedes, lizards, rodents, birds, skunks, racoons, opossums, shrews, moles will also be in larger abundance. This will remove many emerging arthropods, which had wintered from the first year. It is important to note that many mosquitoes over-winter in tree holes, tires, tiny pools in seemingly obscure areas. Mosquitoes’ eggs can be viable in ice and many other extreme conditions. Also, adults in warmer weather areas can hide under brush and even in people’s attics, pantries, cupboards, and between clothes in closets, waiting for an opportune time to feed. How large-scale changes in insect populations due to a long-term interuption of trash collection is uncertain. http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~insects/mosfaq.htm
Finally, in a pandemic, the welfare of domestic companion animals may become a very low priority. If groceries are hard to come by for people, their pets will be in competition with their owners. Some pets may be abandonded through the death or empoverishment of their owners. The only routes for survival for abandoned pets, if not found and housed by Humane Societies, are trash bins, back alleys, abandoned buildings, parks and greenways. Dogs left on their own, form packs that are more aggressive than individual dogs. Cats tend to live in small clusters. Pigs will form groups. Birds like parakeets have been known to fly with sparrow flocks (personal observation). Parrots have formed flocks in California. Carp (koi and goldfish) can live in low oxygen waters. — There should be some place for these animals to go if a family cannot house and care for them properly under the stress of surviving a pandemic. This would not only be a tragic end to these animals but the potential for human harm as well.
Safe and easy pesticides:
Detergents, de-greasers, 4O9, Windex
Preventative (use in small quantities for walking insects):
Diatomaceous Earth http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/npg/npgd0552.html
Talcum powder (mix with water to make a paste)
4 (R.S.K. Barnes, P. Catlo, P.J. Olive; The Invertebrates a New Synthesis, 2nd edition, Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford, 1988)
1, 2 (Abram S. Benenson, editor; Control of Communicable Diseases in Man, 15th edition, Americn Public Health Association. Washington, DC, 1990)
3 (Jerome Goddard, Physician’s Guide to Arthropods of Medical Importance, 2nd edition, CRC Press, Boca Raton, 1996)