Infestation nation

A 'perfect storm' of conditions means that pests are thriving. By Jonathan Brown

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The Independent Online

There's something nasty and it is no longer just lurking in the woodpile. A "perfect storm" of public-sector cuts, falling living standards, the growth in the rental sector and the unseasonably warm weather is prompting an explosion in infestations in British homes.

The soaring numbers of rats and mice, wasps, fleas, cockroaches and other general nasties could lead to a serious threat to public health as cash-strapped councils close extermination services, it was warned yesterday.

Meanwhile, balmy autumn weather has resulted in large populations of wasps remaining active into winter and midges in Scotland biting in November for the first time since monitoring began seven years ago, while the unusually dry conditions have encouraged rats and mice to burrow under patios.

Graham Jukes, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said the "golden age of public protection" was now over.

The institute's latest research, carried out before the effects of the austerity budget, revealed a nine-fold increase in the number of councils no longer offering pest-control services. That figure is expected to grow further as spending cuts bite.

Mr Jukes said: "In today's age we are being hit by a perfect storm. On the one hand we have better climactic conditions which are enabling pest species to survive more than they have in the past. You have also got the growing health inequality – poorer families are getting poorer and living conditions are deteriorating. People are also cleaning their homes less.

"We are getting to a point where there is almost an explosion in factors that are affecting the potential public

health of the population. I can't see a stopping point."

Species such as the longhorn beetle have advanced beyond their traditional domains, while the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has a established a Mosquito Watch service to monitor sightings of aggressive biting insects, following the spread of diseases such as the potentially fatal West Nile virus in the United States and elsewhere.

HPA modelling has shown that human-biting mosquito species are increasingly able to survive the UK's mild winters.

The latest estimate has put the UK population of brown rats at between 10 and 20 million. This has led to fears over the spread of Lyme disease, which can be transmitted to household dogs and cats.

Uncontrolled urban fox populations can also lead to fleas, ringworm, fungal diseases and tapeworm in domestic pets.

Another cause of concern in the industry is growing resistance to pesticides and rodenticides.

John Davidson, chief executive of the National Pest Technicians Association, said next summer's influx of visitors for the London 2012 Olympics, with up to a million visitors expected to descend on the capital, threatened to exacerbate London's burgeoning bedbug problem.