The vision of mice in plague proportions across regional NSW destroying crops in the paddock and eating their way through stored hay and grain is distressing enough, but reports now of people being bitten in their beds is the stuff of nightmares.
The mouse plague crisis is escalating by the day currently, and is quickly moving from an economic disaster - hard enough to stomach for the producers who have started to emerge from years of drought - to a public health crisis in many rural and regional communities.
Crops that have been described as some of the best in years have been decimated, grain storages have been contaminated by the pests, and hay that some farmers were fortunate enough to put away for future needs have been rendered worthless. Previous mouse plagues have been estimated to cost in the tens of millions and this current invasion is proving to be every bit as damaging for farmers and the wider economy. There are also widespread reports of dead mice clogging up and contaminating water storages, including for domestic use, prompting fears of disease.
Warnings have already gone out about the increased risk of leptospirosis, a disease that spreads from infected animal urine from the likes of rodents to other animals and humans. The widespread rain and flooding that's currently occurring across the state has prompted renewed warnings about the disease, with outbreaks often occurring following exposure to contaminated water and mud.
Reports of people being bitten, both while patients in rural hospitals, and in their own beds at home, should also be a source of extreme concerns for authorities. The likes of supermarkets - not to mention homeowners in affected areas - are being forced to spend hours a day cleaning up after the rodents, a futile battle given the sheer numbers. The impact on mental health for everyone affected is another issue.
When something moves past economic disaster to public health crisis with a price beyond monetary value, then it needs to be acted on - and quickly.
It's time for urgent action from the NSW government to support our producers and our country communities, with eradication costs escalating as farmers throw all their individual resources at the crisis. It's time for a coordinated plan of attack, overseen by government, to tackle this plague.
Financial assistance should also be put on the table for farmers as they spend thousands of dollars each week on aerial and ground baiting assaults, and government should also consider approval for alternative control methods where appropriate.
These farmers and communities need support and to see their leaders understand the devastating economic and public health consequences of this plague, and more importantly, are prepared to show the leadership that's required to address it.
- Stephanie Stanhope is the Country Women's Association of NSW president.