Rat Urine Causing Rise in Cases of Flu-Like Illness in NYC: 'It's a Real Problem'

New York City Mayor Eric Adams detailed plans to get trash bags off the streets, saying "plastic bags mean rodents"

<p>Getty</p> Rats in garbage bags.


Rats in garbage bags.

New York City is battling a rat problem — and Mayor Eric Adams said Tuesday the city is working to address the rise in leptospirosis, a bacterial illness caused by rat urine.

“We realize that not only are rodents unsightly and can traumatize your day, but there are real health-related crises that are attached,” Adams said. “They are attached to the issue of rats. It's a real problem.”

The bacterial illness causes flu-like symptoms, the Cleveland Clinic says. It’s caused by “getting water or soil contaminated by animal pee (urine) in your nose, your mouth, your eyes or a break in your skin.”

<p>Richard B. Levine/Alamy</p> Trash bags on a New York City sidewalk.

Richard B. Levine/Alamy

Trash bags on a New York City sidewalk.

“It can progress to multiorgan failure with the potential for death,” the National Library of Medicine says.

For a decade, New York City had an average of three cases of leptospirosis a year, CBS News reports.

But that number has been climbing since 2020, with 24 cases last year, and 6 cases thus far in 2024, the outlet reports.

Part of the city’s plan to handle the rat problem includes getting the plastic bags of trash off the sidewalk.

Gary Hershorn/Getty Rats in the New York City subway.
Gary Hershorn/Getty Rats in the New York City subway.

“We're running rats out of our town. You can't do it if you leave plastic bags on the streets. That's what I tell to residents,” Adams said. “Plastic bags mean rodents. Get the plastic bags off our streets, you will have a major dent in the rat mitigation problem.”

Last year, the city hired its first-ever “Rat Czar,” Kathleen Corradi, to combat the rat population problem, and invested $3.5 million in rat-control efforts.

Related: Rats Infesting New Orleans Police HQ Are 'All High' After Getting into Evidence Room and Eating Marijuana

“Think about it. Bringing on a rat czar,” Adams said. “When people were mocking what we were doing, now we're understanding how forward-thinking we were.”

The city is also moving towards using containers for trash, instead of leaving plastic bags out.

Andrew Burton/Getty New York City mayor Eric Adams.
Andrew Burton/Getty New York City mayor Eric Adams.

“New Yorkers leave out 44 million pounds of trash every day. That's about one hundred 747s if you filled them up,” Deputy Mayor Meera Joshi, Operations, said. “When we look at what the effect of containerization has on neighborhoods, we can see the numbers decline in the rat mitigation zone,” an area in Harlem with an “accelerated rat-reduction plan.”

Related: Jenna Bush Hager’s Kids Picked Out Their Halloween Costumes, and Son Hal Wants to Be a 'New York City Rat'

As for stopping the spread of leptospirosis, Deputy Mayor Williams-Isom said “supers or people who tend to deal with large amounts of the plastic bags” need to “wear gloves.”

“When you look at the complaints, the complaints have gone down in the mitigation zones, rat mitigation zones, and have gone down citywide,” Adams said. “So we are really running rats out of our town.”

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