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They Live Among Us… The Creatures That Call Our Home Theirs

 They Live Among Us… The Creatures That Call Our Home Theirs

Everybody knows there is no escaping bacteria. Bacteria are a fact of life. They exist everywhere — around us and within us.

Everybody knows there is no escaping bacteria. Bacteria are a fact of life. They exist everywhere — around us and within us.

But millions of us share our homes with creatures that aren’t like bacteria. These creatures take advantage of our ignorance and unintentional hospitality. They are the parasites, insects, bugs, and critters that sneak in from the outside when we least expect it and decide to snuggle up alongside us in the comfort of our homes.

In the perfect conditions, these creatures can breed amazingly fast and spread disease, making us ill. They are also at fault for weird, foul smells, bites, and flu-like symptoms. Some can even put your life in jeopardy.

But what are these strange creatures? Where do they come from? How do they appear? And, more importantly, how do we get rid of them — and make sure they stay out?

We’ve put together a visual guide that explores the main culprits — and we’re not talking about house spiders here. What it is they do, where it is they come from, and why your house doesn’t have to be a jungle.

Toxoplasma — The silent killer that lives in your cat

This parasite is one of the most common on Earth. It is estimated that around half of the world’s population has the parasite, including a majority of the French (because they like to eat undercooked meat).

In Britain, infection rates are still an alarmingly high 33% or 1 in 3. The most common route of infection is through exposure to cats (and to a lesser extent, dogs). The toxoplasma parasite lives inside the stomach of a cat and passes through the gut along with its eggs inside faeces. The litter tray then becomes a hotbed for transmission, as the parasite clings to the feet of the cat, which can spread it all over the house.

Toxoplasma is a mind-altering parasite. It infects the brain and can subtly influence behaviour. It can infect mice and re-programme them so that they are no longer afraid of cats, allowing the cat to kill it, and spread it yet again. In humans, it has been linked with many mind-altering symptoms, such as impulsivity, depression and a greater likeliness to take risks.

Preventing toxoplasma

Preventing infection can be hard to do if you have a cat or dog. But it means cleaning regularly to kill the parasite — this means wherever the cat or dog sits or sleeps. Wash your hands after handling the cat, and never touch your mouth before washing. Always opt for the safe option and eat your meat well-cooked, too.

Preventing toxoplasma requires vigilance if you own a pet.

Crypto

Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium) is a microscopic parasite that thrives in dirty water. Most people in the UK get it from infected swimming pools, but in other cases it be from drinking water and even dirty shower water.

Crypto has a protective shell so that chlorine cannot kill it. Children swallow infected water and fall ill — though symptoms can take up to 10 days to appear — which can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and fever. Almost a quarter of UK residents are frequently exposed to crypto whether at home or in the swimming baths.

Preventing crypto

In swimming baths, keep your head above water and tell your children to do the same. Avoid swimming underwater. If you suspect your water is contaminated or dirty at home, use sterilising tablets or contact your water supplier for help. Never drink water if you are unsure of its cleanliness.

Demodex “Face Mites”

Face mites are tiny microscopic arachnids (like spiders) that live on our face. Their presence is normal, but if we are not careful, bad habits can encourage them to breed a lot faster. These mites like to live in oily glands where they feed on dead skin.

A lot of mites live on our faces already — up to 12 on each hair — but if they are allowed to multiply to a point where there are 18x as many on the face, this can cause complications like severe acne or rosacea.

Preventing Demodex

There is no way to get rid of face mites completely, but you can reduce their numbers and the skin conditions they cause by regular washing of the face. Mites love oily skin, so be sure to use creams that are the most efficient at cleaning them. Tea tree oil wipes applied throughout the day are also useful.

Dust Mites

 Like face mites, dust mites live in almost every home. You cannot get rid of them, but you can greatly reduce their numbers. Dirty habits and a lack of cleaning is a blessing to dust mites, and in the worst cases, up to 10 million may live on a single bed mattress. In large numbers, they can pollute the house, triggering allergies and making us feel unwell.

Preventing dust mites

Dust regularly with a damp duster, and hoover often. The best thing is to wash your sheets and pillows on high temperature; indeed any fabric at over 60 degrees Celsius will kill dust mites. In the long run, a bed mattress should be replaced after seven years. At this point, your mattress may be irreversibly corrupted by mites and mite faeces.

Mosquitoes

We think of mosquitoes as tropical creatures, but they are common in Britain and some of them are even capable of transmitting malaria. Most types of mosquito indigenous to the UK (67%) bite humans. Even without malaria, their bites can spread diseases that can cause inflammation, eye pain, and fever.

They are more common in the south of England and during the peak summer months.

Preventing mosquitoes

As we all probably know, mosquitos drift into the house through open windows on a midsummer evening. There they can cling ominously to the walls after dusk when their energy is depleted.

Mosquitos are mainly a problem if you live near a water source or woodland area, that is accommodating to them. We would recommend using mosquito repellant in the summer and covering ponds and water sources in the garden if there is any.

Cockroaches

Cockroaches are another insect that we think of as being a foreign one. This is partly true. Most cockroaches living in the UK are immigrants (the names give them away: the German cockroach, the Oriental cockroach, and the American cockroach, for example).

In recent years there have been massive increases in the amount of cockroach infestations in the UK. Inside the house, the drool, drop waste, shed their exoskeletons, and leave “smear marks” while they look for food and water. The result is again a sort of pollutant phenomena that can trigger allergies, a rampant spread of disease, along with other complications such as gastroenteritis.

Preventing cockroaches

Cockroaches are drawn to leftover food: crumbs, food left on the side, open water sources. Unsurprisingly this is how they transmit diseases to humans. Once established in a home, they nestle in cracks and crevices, if available, and only emerge at night.

You can prevent cockroaches by making sure no food — crumbs or otherwise — is left out, and by regular hoovering to clear away their droppings and unhatched eggs.

Bedbugs

It is a myth that bedbugs are only attracted to dirty squalors. In fact, the opposite is true. Bedbugs love clean apartments, hotel rooms and student accommodations. They spread like wildfire as their eggs can be transmitted from infected clothing, and they thrive in clean environments.

Bedbug infestations have risen by nearly a third in the UK over the last year. Aside from covering you in nasty bites, they emit unusual odours and can trigger complications that can make it hard to breathe.

Preventing bedbugs

Preventing bedbugs requires vigilance. Isolate clothes whenever you spend the night in a hotel room or some other form of accommodation, and wash them on a high temperature (60 degrees Celsius or more) to kill the eggs. Hoover the inside of your travel bag. If it’s too late and your home is already infested, call in an exterminator.

Ticks

Ticks are mostly woodland creatures, but they can be brought into the house from the garden or from contaminated clothing after a day in the countryside. Some species, such as the Brown Dog Tick, can actually thrive and reproduce in the home.

Ticks can spread nasty diseases such as Lyme disease. Again, we think of Lyme disease as a foreign-born pathogen, but a lot of UK ticks transmit it.

Preventing ticks

The Brown Dog Tick is an invasive species that can come from abroad, especially if you have imported a dog or have been holidaying with your pet. Be sure to check your pets for ticks regularly, as this could be their avenue into the home.

Ticks can be a major problem in the garden. So cut the grass short and trim back the vegetation, and keep all the sitting areas and play equipment on concrete.

Conclusion: Are bad cleaning habits making you ill?

A human house is cosy and comfortable; not just for us but thousands of little creatures that are waiting to get in. Sensible and regular cleaning can drastically reduce their numbers or keep them away, and keep you clean and in good health.

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