“Thousands of them! Millions of them!”
The famous quote from Dwight Frye’s portrayal of Renfield in 1931’s Dracula shows a crazed man obsessed with large number of rodents.
There is no question that thousands and perhaps millions of rats have been displaced in Houston and outlying areas in the historic flooding of Hurricane Harvey.
And they are the most likely of displaced animals to cause problems.
Rats are excellent swimmers and climbers and while some will no doubt have perished most will survive.
The Houston area has had an increase rat problem this summer as show by this video from ABC 13.
According to the Center of Disease Control rats and their kind are major disease carriers.
Worldwide, rats and mice spread over 35 diseases. These diseases can be spread to humans directly, through handling of rodents, through contact with rodent feces, urine, or saliva, or through rodent bites. Diseases carried by rodents can also be spread to humans indirectly, through ticks, mites or fleas that have fed on an infected rodent.
Immediately some locations on high ground will find themselves covered with large numbers of rats. And while rats do not typically “attack” people, stressed ones are more likely to bite. The main threat would be children picking them up and pets encountering them.
During my coverage of Hurricane Ike in 2008, I learned of a family that stayed in the path of the massive of Hurricane only a few miles from the beach and had to retreat into the attic and eventually the roof. As waters rose, rats inundated the small strip of high ground along with snakes from the nearby marsh.
Rats that can stay together will. They have a very strong social order.
But those separate by flooding conditions are still resilient.
Rodents that survive a disaster often move to new areas. It will take time for rodents to regroup, reorganize their social behavior, become familiar with their new environment, find safe haven, locate food and water, and memorize their movements according to CDC officials.
Colony building and reproduction will begin only when their new ecosystem has stabilized. This typically takes 6 to 10 months under favorable conditions. As the rodent population grows and resettles, people have a greater chance of being exposed to the diseases carried by rodents. Rodent urine and dander also contain allergens that can cause allergic reactions or trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive persons and more than 9,000 persons are treated in emergency departments annually for rat or mouse bites.
And something very few people consider is that a large number of rats found in America cities are a foreign invader-the Norway rat.
Dispersed around the world on ships these highly resilient animals can chew through virtually anything. These animals can outcompete native rodents for space and food and will survive virtually anything-including Hurricanes and floods.
CDC officials warn damaged or abandoned homes and other buildings may be infested with rodents.
In the aftermath of Harvey if you see signs of rodents, the building will need to be thoroughly cleaned.
Here are a few CDC tips for cleaning up after rats.
*Do not vacuum or sweep rodent urine, rodent droppings, or contaminated surfaces that have not been disinfected.
*Spray urine and droppings with a disinfectant or a 1:10 chlorine solution (1½ cups of household bleach mixed with 1 gallon of water) until thoroughly soaked.
*Let it soak for 5 minutes.
*Use a paper towel to remove urine and droppings.
*Discard the paper towel outdoors in a sealed garbage container.
Make sure and educate children about rats and let them know not to approach or pick up any live or dead. If a child (or adult) is bitten by a rat get medical treatment immediately.
Its doubtful anyone will see “thousands of rats” and certainly not “millions”.
But for those of us who don’t much like these pests it can only take one to drive us crazy or at least feel that way.
Chester Moore, Jr.