Rats getting 'aggressive' as restaurants stay shut amid pandemic, here's what CDC advises for a rodent-free home
Preventive actions can include sealing up access into homes and businesses, removing debris and heavy vegetation, keeping garbage in tightly covered bins
Lockdowns and stay-at-home orders have led to a rodent problem in many parts of the US. The situation has even prompted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue guidelines for eliminating conditions that attract them. The CDC also warns that reports of strange or aggressive rat behavior may increase. According to experts, people can take preventive actions by sealing up access into homes and businesses, removing debris and heavy vegetation, keeping garbage in tightly covered bins and removing pet and bird food from yards.
Across the US, restaurants and commercial establishments have been shut since March or have limited service to control the spread of Covid-19. Rodents usually rely on the food and waste generated by these establishments. According to the CDC, community-wide closures have led to a decrease in food available to rodents, especially in dense commercial areas. Subsequently, some jurisdictions have reported an increase in rodent activity as rodents search for new sources of food. "Environmental health and rodent control programs may see an increase in service requests related to rodents and reports of unusual or aggressive rodent behavior. During rodent-related service calls and inspections, environmental health practitioners should advise residents and business owners to eliminate conditions that may attract and support rodent presence," the CDC says in its advisory.
Last month, experts had warned that the closure of many businesses such as restaurants and grocery stores in the US is impacting rats and that these rats are waging their own battle to survive during the Covid-19 pandemic, with some even turning into cannibals. "A restaurant all of a sudden closes now, which has happened by the thousands in not just New York City but coast to coast and around the world, and those rats that were living by that restaurant, someplace nearby, and perhaps for decades having generations of rats that depended on that restaurant food, well, life is no longer working for them, and they only have a couple of choices," Dr Bobby Corrigan, an urban rodentologist, had said last month. These choices include “cannibalism, rat battles, and infanticide".
Experts had said that as urban rat colonies disperse and start looking for food, they could enter houses. "They (rats) are very good at sniffing out sources of food, and their powerful teeth can make short work of barriers like doors, plastics, or fabrics. They're global, they’re everywhere, and they didn't get to be completely global if they weren't very skilled at being masters of adaptation," said Dr Corrigan.
Meanwhile, according to the CDC, rodent bait stations could become a more attractive food source for rodents, so stations may need to be serviced more often. It is important to monitor rodent activity during this time and develop indicators to help inform rodent control strategies, say experts. "Follow established guidelines when cleaning up after rodent infestations to prevent exposure to rodent-borne diseases. Fleas are common on rodents. In areas of heavy rodent infestations, workers should consider using a repellant registered by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as effective against fleas to prevent flea bites and minimize exposure to flea-borne disease," says the guidance.
The CDC also cautions that after natural disasters like hurricanes, communities often experience a decline in rodent populations, followed by an increase in rodent populations as commercial activity returns to normal. They advise environmental health programs to continue rodent monitoring and control activities after these events.