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Rat-Spread Disease Kills 1 Person, Sickens 2 in NYC, Officials Say

(CBS NEWS) NEW YORK -- A disease spread by rats has been blamed for killing one person and sickening at least two others in a building in the New York City borough of the Bronx, reports CBS New York.

The city’s Health Department said two patients were diagnosed in December and one this month.

Residents are upset that they’re just finding out about the outbreak now, and are demanding that something be done about the ongoing rat problem.

Health Department employees were stationed in the lobby of 750 Grand Concourse in the Bronx with alarming news for residents: Within a one block radius, there’ve been three cases of leptospirosis — a bacterial infection most commonly spread by contact with rat urine.

A 43-year-old man was one of the infected residents.

In Spanish, he told CBS New York he feels better, but is still recovering after being treated with antibiotics.

It’s unacceptable to residents who say the rat problem’s been present in the building for years.

“They run from underneath your stove, your refrigerator, my apartment is very clean, but it just doesn’t matter. There’s just holes where they find their way in,” Florence Howard said. “Everything I wash, I have to use bleach because they run around rampantly like they’re part of your house.”

The Health Department said there are typically one to three cases of leptospirosis every year in New York City. While it is very rarely spread from person-to-person, the illness can be serious.

The bacteria enter the body through open wounds and cuts in the skin, or through the eyes, nose or mouth. Some people who are infected may not develop symptoms, while others may have a mild illness with fever, headache chills, muscle aches, vomiting, or diarrhea. In some cases, patients develop a life-threatening illness that affects their kidneys and liver.

It’s now a scary reality for those in the building.

Many walls and doors in the building are boarded up — which is how residents say the rats get inside. They said they’ve complained many times, but nothing has been done.

“There’s a lack of concern about the building, there’s a lack of concern with the super and the landlord,” Howard said.

The Health Department said it’s trying to reduce the rat problem in the building. 

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