Watch CBS News

Rat urine-related sickness in New York City soared to the highest level ever in 2023. Here's what's being done.

New York City concerned about illness and even death related to rat urine
New York City concerned about illness and even death related to rat urine 03:07

NEW YORK -- There is a new phase in New York City's war on rats after the Health Department warned that in 2023 rat-related sickness soared to the highest level in a single year.

They are everywhere — in your kitchens, in your gardens, in your trash, and now they are making New Yorkers sick.

The Health Department is warning of a worrisome increase in the number of infectious leptospirosis cases that come from contact with rat urine.

"Not only are rodents unsightly and can traumatize your day, but they're a real health-related crises," Mayor Eric Adams said.

Last year was a record year for rat disease. From 2001 to 2020, New York City was averaging just three cases of human leptospirosis per year. That jumped to 24 cases last year and there have been six cases so far this year.

Officials are worried because it often comes from handling trash bags or bins containing food waste. If not treated it can cause kidney failure, meningitis, liver damage and respiratory distress. In all, six people have died. So the city will start by mounting an education campaign.

"In terms of awareness, I understand, if we wear gloves — supers, or people who tend to deal with large amounts of plastic bags," Deputy Mayor Anne Williams-Isom said.

Adams said the city is fast-tracking its program to get plastic garbage bags off the street and containerize garbage.

"We though that it was going to take four and a half years to containerize our garbage. We're going to do it in two and a half years," Adams said.

The rat-hating mayor said rats are traumatizing New Yorkers, which is simply unacceptable.

"If you were to open your closet and a rat ran out you would never open that closet again the same way. If you went to a restroom and a rat crawled up to your toilet, you would never feel comfortable in that restroom again," Adams said.

Although the city does have a new rat czar, it is a difficult problem. One pair of rats has the potential to breed 15,000 descendants in a single year.

Due to concerns about rat poison as it related to the death of the beloved owl Flaco, a city councilman has introduced a bill for a pilot program to sterilize rats. The plan calls for using special pellets that officials hope will be so delicious the rats will eat the pellets and not city trash.

Adams said Tuesday he's all for anything that will reduce the rat population.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.