As Hurricane Sandy began to bear down on New York City this past October, I reported on an overlooked and potentially very real future consequence of the storm: city rats flooded from their underground residences could begin infesting more human homes and businesses.
Yesterday, The New York Times reported on displaced rats "resettling" and "running amok" in parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan:
Shortly after the storm, exterminators were inundated with calls from Dumbo, Brooklyn Heights and Lower Manhattan. And once the rats were resettled, they grew accustomed to their surroundings, feasting on the garbage created by the hurricane as well as by the normal churn of the winter holidays.
Increased rat numbers can translate to an increased risk of infectious diseases, including leptospirosis, hantavirus, typhus, salmonella, and even the plague. "One of the things we know can exacerbate disease is massive dispersal," Rick Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y. told me in October.
"It's not just about the high winds and rain," he said. "A rat distrubance is something we should be concerned about." (Ostfeld and other experts shared more insights and predictions during a subsequent HuffPost Live segment -- below.)
The Times seems to validate Ostfeld's prediction, reporting that exterminators have been overwhelmed with clients since the storm. And despite their best efforts and most lethal tools -- including "blocks of poison" -- the rodents keep coming back.
Of course, some of those blocks of poison can cause their own problems. I reported in August on the threats to wildlife, pets and kids posed by the popular line of D-Con consumer products. A group of environmental and public health advocates had just written the EPA a letter pleading for a ban on the toxic pellets.
The EPA announced this week that it does intend to ban 12 D-Con rat poisons, noting that the products "fail to comply with safety measures."
Fortunately, there are alternative weapons such as traps and glue boards. Experts have also emphasized to me the importance of prevention. While we may not be able to prevent another superstorm like Sandy -- not directly, anyway -- eliminating rats' food, water and shelter can go a long way.