By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Diseased rat urine has killed at least one person and sickened two others in New York City in an outbreak of a rarely seen infection, prompting calls from city officials on Wednesday for a renewed effort to cull the rodent population.
The outbreak of leptospirosis began in December and all three cases were traced to a single block in the Bronx, New York's northernmost borough. City officials said on Wednesday it was the first ever "cluster" of cases in the city's history.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection spread by rodents and other animals that can cause fever, vomiting and kidney damage. It can be treated with antibiotics but is sometimes deadly.
Two people were diagnosed in December and the third in February, the department said. While one died, the other two have since recovered. The department did not identify the patients, nor say exactly how it thought the three people were exposed to the infected rat urine. Typically, humans get infected through contact with tainted water.
One of the people who fell sick lived in an apartment building on the block that city officials said was known for its rat infestations, while the other two were known to frequently visit the block.
The mayor's office noted that the building's landlord is accused of 79 building code violations. On Wednesday city workers cleared out garbage, plugged holes and set traps in the infested apartment building.
The Red Cross was helping to relocate residents of eight apartments the landlord had illegally created in the basement, the mayor's office said.
Letitia James, the city's public advocate, blamed the death on the building's landlord, Ved Parkash, whom she had publicly shamed in 2016 as the fourth-worst landlord in the city in an annual list. Reuters was not immediately able to reach Parkash for comment.
The death prompted Ruben Diaz, the Bronx borough president, to lament the city's centuries-old efforts to curtail its persistent rat population.
"It is unfathomable to me that in this day and age, in one of the most expensive cities in the world and at our most technologically advanced point as a civilization, the city cannot mitigate the rat problem," Diaz said in a statement.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are 100 to 200 cases of leptospirosis each year in the country. New York City only sees one to three cases a year, the city's health department said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Tom Brown and Lisa Shumaker)