Rats on the Rise in U.S. Cities

ByABC News
August 6, 2001, 10:00 AM

W A S H I N G T O N, Aug. 6 -- In New York City, officials held a Rat Summitand appointed a rodent task force. Sightings of the furry crittersin Chicago have shot up by more than 10,000. A Houston exterminatoreven witnessed a police officer with loaded pistol chasing a ratthrough a house.

All across urban America, rats are scurrying in larger numbersand gnawing at the nerves of city dwellers, prompting federaldisease specialists to seek new solutions.

Health experts say the problem can be traced to a decision twodecades ago to reduce federal funding for rodent control, and morerecently to ever-tightening city government budgets.

"The resurgence of the problem in recent years is connected tocities having to make hard choices about what their prioritiesare," said Jerry Hershovitz of the federal Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention, or CDC, in Atlanta.

"As a result, urban rat control in many communities isapproached in a complaint-oriented basis, and that will not solvethe problem," he said.

Not Just a Nuisance

Rats are more than a nuisance. During the 14th century, theyhelped spread the bubonic plague through Europe. And more recentlythey have been known to carry diseases such as typhus orleptospirosis, a potentially serious bacterial illness.

"A mouse in your house or a rat they could potentially killyou," said Robert Corrigan, a Richmond, Ind., rodent specialist."We are competing on this earth with rats."

There's little doubt about the public's concern.

In Boston, complaints are up by 40 percent. Chicago ratsightings increased from 22,431 in July 2000 to 33,134 last month.And New York exterminations and rat inspections grew by about19,600 between July 1999 and June 2001.

All the sun and surf doesn't help in the West, where a differentbreed of rat thrives on the warmth. "We have our own problems withthese little critters," lamented Arturo Aguirre of the Los AngelesCounty Department of Health Services.

Recognizing the infestations is easy; finding solutions is a bitmore challenging.