CDC Warns COVID-19 Shutdowns to Cause 'Aggressive' Behavior in Rats

CBS News
May 26, 2020 - 9:16 am
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Stay-at-home orders in many areas of the country may lead to an increase in rats and "aggressive rodent behavior," the CDC warns. Because many restaurants are closed or doing reduced business for takeout and delivery, rats that once relied on food and waste generated by these establishments are going hungry and seeking out new food sources.

"Community-wide closures have led to a decrease in food available to rodents, especially in dense commercial areas," the CDC says on its updated rodent control page. "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."

According to the CDC, communities often experience a decline in rodent populations immediately after natural disasters like hurricanes, followed by an increase in rodents as commercial activity returns to normal. While the pandemic is not the type of natural disaster we're used to, it is affecting rat populations. 

"It is important to monitor rodent activity during this time and develop indicators to help inform rodent control strategies," the CDC says.

The CDC advises residents and business owners to eliminate conditions that may attract and support rodents. Sealing up access into homes and businesses, removing debris and heavy vegetation, keeping garbage in tightly covered bins, and removing pet food and bird food from yards are recommended preventative actions.

Workers should consider using a rodent repellent in areas of heavy rodent infestation, to help protect against fleas which can carry disease. 

On its rodent control web page, which was updated last week, the CDC provides resources for rodent clean-up methods and protective equipment to use during clean-up operations. 

CBS New York reported last month that local exterminators were already seeing signs of a problem.

"There could be about 2 million rats running around in New York City and especially because of lack of food, rats are going to be looking to move into residential buildings or residential houses," said Favio Ulloa, of Prestige Pest Services, which is based in Hawthorne, New Jersey.

The coronavirus lockdown put in place in New Orleans in March inadvertently led to a major rat problem there. Stay-at-home orders were imposed after the city's famous Mardi Gras celebration brought huge crowds into the streets, spreading the virus and turning Louisiana into a COVID-19 hotspot. With Bourbon Street's famous bars closed and people staying home, videos showed dozens of rats scurrying through the empty streets.

"I turn the corner, there's about 30 rats at the corner, feasting on something in the middle of the street," Charles Marsala of New Orleans Insider Tours and AWE News told CBS News' Omar Villafranca. Marsala said he had "never" seen anything like it before.