SafeWork NSW recently issued a safety alert warning those in contact with rodents – particularly farmers and agriculture workers – to be more careful of health and safety risks as areas of rural and regional NSW continue to be affected by an ongoing mouse plague.
These risks include greater exposure to diseases such as leptospirosis and hazardous chemicals like zinc phosphide, and SafeWork NSW also said mental health and wellbeing and that of your colleagues and workers could also be impacted.
The alert said zoonoses such as leptospirosis are diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that can be spread from animals, such as rodents to people.
Exposure can occur through contact with infected mice or water, soil or mud that has been contaminated by the urine of infected mice. The bacteria can enter the human body through cuts or abrasions and occasionally through the lining of the mouth, nose and eyes.
Rodents such as mice can also transmit other diseases to humans, including lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV), rat-bite fever and gastrointestinal infections such as salmonellosis.
The alert said farmers, agriculture, horticulture and abattoir workers are some groups who are at higher risk of exposure. Rainfall and flooding events such as those recently seen across NSW can also increase the risk of leptospirosis.
Symptoms of leptospirosis usually develop within five to 14 days after infection, and symptoms may include flu-like symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhoea and conjunctivitis. Some people will only have mild symptoms, although some may develop severe disease including kidney and liver problems, jaundice, bleeding and lung problems.
The alert said there are a number of important control measures to minimise the risk of leptospirosis exposure.
Minimise rodent contact
Clean and decontaminate
Clean and disinfect rodent contact areas such as floors and countertops with disinfectant or bleach solution.
To control the mice population, farmers and workers may use hazardous chemicals such as zinc phosphide more often and in bigger quantities than commonly used in mouse and rat baits.
The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) has recently issued a permit allowing the concentration of zinc phosphide to be increased from 25 grams per kilogram to 50 grams per kilogram in mouse and rat baits.
The alert said exposure to zinc phosphide can be hazardous to your health. Exposure can occur by getting it on your skin, breathing it in or accidentally eating or drinking a product containing the chemical. When zinc phosphide is accidentally eaten by a person it can travel to the stomach and mix with stomach acid – causing it to release the toxic gas, phosphine.
Symptoms of exposure to zinc phosphide include headaches, dizziness, vomiting and difficulty breathing. It can also cause liver and kidney failure, convulsions, delirium, coma and death in cases with severe acute exposure.
Zinc phosphide is a hazardous chemical, so it is important to use, handle, store and dispose of it safely.
The alert said to ask your supplier for safety data sheets (SDS) and always refer to product labels and the SDS for directions on the safe use, handling, storage and disposal of hazardous chemicals. Read and understand the health effects of the product that you are using and note the safety measures required to use the chemical safely.
In using zinc phosphide, the alert also said to: