Cluster of rat-related disease discovered in Bronx section of New York, 1 dead

PHOTO: Rats seen on the NYC subway tracks at the 53rd. St. station.PlayAndrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images
WATCH Infection linked to rat urine kills 1 person in NYC, sickens 2

A rare bacterial outbreak in New York City linked to rats has infected three people, one of whom died, according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Three people in one city block in the Bronx were diagnosed with leptospirosis within the last two months, after they had become severely ill, the department reported yesterday. One of the infected people, a man in his 30s, died.

"The Health Department has identified a cluster of three cases of leptospirosis on one block in the Concourse area of the Bronx," officials from the New York City Health Department said in a statement yesterday. "Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is most commonly spread by contact with rat urine and is very rarely spread from person to person. This illness can be serious, but is treatable with readily available antibiotics."

Two of the patients were diagnosed in December and one was diagnosed in February, the department said, after they were hospitalized with acute liver and kidney failure.

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by the bacteria Leptospira interrogans, which is found in nature. The bacteria can cause infection if they enter the body through eyes, nose, mouth or through open wounds or cuts in the skin. It is often spread by rat or other animal urine and can cause fever, headache, chills, vomiting or diarrhea. In rare cases, the disease causes severe complications in the kidney or liver that can result in organ failure and death.

New York City had 26 cases of leptospirosis between 2006 and 2016, averaging between one to three cases per year, the department added. All but one were men.

The World Health Organization estimates that 5 to 15 percent "of untreated cases can progress to a more severe and potentially fatal stage."

Health department officials said they were working with the New York City Housing Preservation and Development and the Buildings Departments to lower the rat population in the area and educate residents about the disease.

City officials advise concerned residents to avoid contact with rats or places where rats may have urinated, wash hands thoroughly with soap and water, use a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water to clean possibly affected areas and wear shoes and protective gear in rat-prone locations.