NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - The Mississippi River runs along the city of New Orleans and like many cities the Big Easy combats rats. And now the Centers for Disease Control warns that because of the pandemic rats may act more aggressively because their food supply has been affected.
Claudia Riegel is Director of the New Orleans Mosquito, Termite and Rodent Control Board.
"So, we have two different kinds of rats, we have the roof rat and the Norway rat,” she said.
And she appreciates the CDC’s warning. Riegel said the city has joined many other municipalities in communicating with the CDC about rodents during the pandemic.
"I'm really happy the CDC put out statement,” Riegel stated.
The CDC wrote:
“Jurisdictions have closed or limited service at restaurants and other commercial establishments to help limit the spread of COVID-19. Rodents rely on the food and waste generated by these establishments. Community-wide closures have led to a decrease in food available to rodents, especially in dense commercial areas. 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.”
Standing in the city’s famed French Market Riegel said rodents are becoming competitive in their quest to eat.
"So many businesses are closed and so there may be a smaller amount of food that's available and so these animals are competing amongst themselves for that food source and so yes, we have seen that they become aggressive towards each other,” said Riegel. “Bottom line for rodents is that they need a food source."
She explained that the rodents are not attacking people, but each other in the battle for food.
"That means they're not aggressive towards people, what they are, are aggressive towards each other,” Riegel said.
She said in the city they are seeing signs of rats cannibalizing each other.
"They do fight with each other, we've seen scarring on these animals, we do trap and inspect and see what these animals look like,” said Riegel. "We've also seen, you know, rodents feeding on other rodents, cannibalism has, we've observed that, as well."
She said the French Market which is known for selling fresh produce and is adjacent to the river is being proactive.
"We've implemented very strong control measures, the French Market themselves have worked through and you can see these businesses are in good shape and repairs have been made and then we also do trapping, live trapping, so that we're looking to see how many of these animals we're actually catching,” said Riegel.
She stressed that the city is working even harder during the pandemic to combat the rodent population.
"To really put, you know, pressure on those populations so that we can reduce the populations in these areas. We're exploiting the behavior of these animals foraging, looking for food,” said Riegel. "One of the ways we've been doing it is obviously through inspections, working during the day but also at night.”
Riegel said people should take precautions when they encounter rodents, either dead or alive.
"If you are going to pick up a dead rodent you need to use gloves or use an inverted plastic bag or something like that,” said Riegel. "Never touch a live animal, right? We don't want to have anybody get bit, you know, they also carry lots of pathogens and so we want to make sure nobody's getting sick."
Riegel urges residents and businesses to seal discarded food in bags and place in trash bins with a secure top. She said dog foot should not be left out and outdoor containers with water should be emptied to make areas less attractive to rodents.
Anyone who wants to report a rodent problem should call the city’s 311 hotline.