100 New Yorkers bitten by rats each year

One hundred twenty-one people in New York City were bitten by rats in 2008, but last year that number dropped to 86.

See that piece of slimy trash the subway rat is chewing? You could be next.

Rodents bite about 100 New Yorkers each year, according to city Health Department statistics.
In 2010, rats chewed on 86 New Yorkers, and so far this year, 29 people reported getting their skin pierced by a rodent’s sharp teeth.

The Health Department records bites from people reporting it on their website, and from emergency room doctors. But many more bite horror stories may go unreported.

Some of the bites come from mice, the Health Department noted. In 2010, 34 of the total bites came from mice, often snapping at people while caught in traps.

But rats have been known to sink their teeth into straphangers riding the subway — or even gnaw on New Yorkers in their homes.

Jimmy Tallman of Magic Exterminating said he was called to a Bronx apartment where rats attacked a child.

“They were getting into a crib and they bit on a baby’s toes,” he said. Rats sometimes climb right into a baby’s crib and suck milk out of bottles, he said.

In 2005, a 3-year-old girl in the Bronx was chomped on the back when a rat crawled through a shower tile, according to reports.

Another time, in Long Island, a rat nosed into a parrot’s cage and ate the bird, Tallman said.

“They’re just attracted to the food, and gnaw on a human by accident, for the most part,” said his exterminator partner Michael Morales.

If you are bitten by a rat or a mouse, the Health Department recommends immediate medical attention. Bacteria from a rat’s teeth can cause anything from tetanus to rat bite fever, which can be fatal.

She loves her 13 rodents

One woman says rats get a bad rap. Queens resident Tara Delahoz, 29, says the 13 rats she raises and breeds in her home would never bite. “They’re very docile creatures,” she says. Rats are “social by nature,” she says, and she ensures they do not get biting habits by nurturing them from birth. She began collecting pet rats at 14. “I saw somebody with a pet rat. The rat looked so docile and so content to sit on the owner’s shoulder.”

Rat bite health risks

Rat bite fever is rare, but can be caught from infected rodents. It causes fever and a rash about three days after a bite, and can be fatal in extreme cases. Leptospirosis, a bacteria infection from rodents that causes fever and vomiting, is reported about one to three times each year in the city, according to the Health Department. Plague has not been reported from a New York rat, but two cases were recorded last year by a couple visiting from New Mexico.

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @AlisonatMetro.


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