(NewsUSA) - Many people may practice the "love thy neighbor" creed, but when it comes to four-legged wildlife such as raccoons, squirrels, and opossum that often seek refuge in yards and homes when outdoor temperatures dip and food sources become scarce, they are best kept at an arm's length. As community development has thinned natural habitats and forced these critters into residential areas and lessened their fears of people, the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) has found that many areas of the country continue to report increased encounters with nuisance wildlife.
"While it can be a unique experience to spot wildlife in neighborhoods, these animals should be discouraged from taking up residence," advises Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the NPMA. "Not only can they damage property, many are vectors of disease, most notably rabies."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 40,000 people are exposed to rabies each year, a viral infection passed through the bite and saliva of an infected mammal. Raccoons, foxes, skunks, coyotes and bats are the most commonly reported animals infected with rabies. Because of the risks associated with these pests, homeowners should take extra precautions to protect against them.
NPMA offers these preventative tips:
* Eliminate points of entry. Seal entry points around the house. Replace loose mortar and weather stripping. Install a mesh cover or cap over chimneys and other exposed openings.
* Be mindful of food and garbage storage. Keep food in airtight containers, and dispose of garbage regularly. If trash cans are kept outdoors, use animal-proof lids. Bring pet food dishes inside at night to avoid attracting wildlife.
* Reduce harborage. Keep tree limbs 6 to 8 feet from the roofline, and store firewood at least 20 feet away from the house.
* Spot signs of wildlife intruders. Inspect wires, insulation and walls for signs of gnaw marks.
Listen for scampering and gnawing at night as many critters are nocturnal.
* Protect the whole family. Ensure pets are properly vaccinated against rabies. While wild animals are more often infected with rabies, dogs and cats more commonly transmit the disease to humans. Teach children to stay away from wild animals.
Despite taking proper precautions, if you find that you have a problem with wildlife in your home, contact a licensed pest professional who can aid in removal. Many jurisdictions have laws and ordinances on wildlife control. You can find a list of experienced professionals in your area at www.pestworld.org.