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Health Commissioner: Rats Are Not A Health Risk

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Disgusting, gross and revolting: That's how New Yorkers often describe rats. NY1’s Rita Nissan filed the following report on the city's response to them and got some words of wisdom from a local rat expert.

The recent rat-fest caught on tape at a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant in the Village has renewed fears, prompting the city's Health Department to lead the charge to eradicate rodents.

The city spends $8 million a year on rodent control and has a team of more than 100 inspectors who close about 500 restaurants each year.

“We can always use more to address the problem. It's a big problem,” says Deputy Health Commissioner Jessica Leighton.

Leighton points out rats are a quality of life issue, not a health risk.

“They are not what causes food borne disease; they are not what causes poor health conditions,” says Leighton.

She says the city has stepped up its efforts in the last few years and is using new technologies to target neighborhoods prone to rats.

“For certain communities, the reasons that they have high rodent problems will be different than in other communities and we are trying to address the underlying factors,” says Leighton.

Robert Sullivan knows more about rats than anyone. In 2001, he spent a year studying them in an alleyway in downtown Manhattan.

“You can see where they would crawl in and out of abandoned buildings,” he says.

The result of all his research was the bestseller "Rats.”

“I'm not crazy about rats. I don't love them. I don't live with them all the time,” he says.

But Sullivan is fascinated by them. He says they'll always be a part of the city's landscape. The Taco Bell video just reminded people of that, he says.

“They are always going to be around and to think they are not going to be around is kind of crazy,” Sullivan says. “Now, I'm not saying we need to have them doing chin-ups in all of our eating establishments.”

The best advice to keep them at bay? Clean up.

“Don't throw the rest of your muffin down the subway platform,” advises Sullivan.

No one knows how many rats are in the city. One per person? Unlikely says Sullivan.

Whatever the number, for most, it will always be too many.

— Rita Nissan
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