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1 dead, 2 sickened by bacterial infection caused by rat urine in the Bronx

Posted at 9:59 PM, Feb 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-15 17:24:59-05

CONCOURSE, the Bronx — One person has died and two others were sickened after contracting a bacterial infection caused by rat urine in the Bronx, city officials said Tuesday.

Three cases of leptospirosis has been identified in a block of the Concourse area of the borough, according to a statement released by the Health Department. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease spread by animal urine — in this case by rats.

Two patients were diagnosed in December 2016 and one in February. Two of the patients have recovered, and one has died.

Officials say the person who died did not live in the building, but worked in a small business nearby. They would not provide further details about the victim out of respect.

City officials said Wednesday there have been three cases within a one block radius in the Bronx.

It is extremely rare in New York City and it is rarely spread person to person. Since 2006, there have been 26 cases of the infection in New York City.

The disease is treatable with antibiotics. There are typically one to three cases of leptospirosis every year in New York City.

“This illness can be serious but is treatable with readily available antibiotics," according to the statement. "The Health Department, in partnership with its sister agencies the Housing Preservation and Development and the Buildings Departments, has taken immediate measures to ensure the health and safety of residents by reducing the rat population in the area and is educating tenants about precautions, signs, and treatment.”

The bacteria enters the body through open wounds and cuts in the skin, or the eyes, nose or mouth. Some people who are infected may have no symptoms, while others may have a mild illness with fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting or diarrhea. Rarely, infected persons may develop a life-threatening illness that affects their kidneys and liver.

Residents in the affected apartment complex tell PIX11 their landlord "is one of the worst," and has previously refused to fumigate the building.

Health officials say the landlord has been "very cooperative" and brought in an exterminator. He

Those concerned about the situation can attend a community meeting and speak with Health Department officials Wednesday at 750 Grand Concourse at 6 p.m.

The Health Department, in partnership with its sister agencies the Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and Buildings Departments (DOB), is working with building owners in the affected area to remediate rodent infestations.

Precautions you can take: 
· Avoid contact with rats or with places where rats may have urinated.
· Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after any contact with areas where rats may live.
· If you cannot avoid areas where rats have been seen, or are cleaning areas where rats have been, use a solution of one part household bleach and 10 parts water to kill the leptospirosis bacteria.
· Protect yourself from contact with their urine: wear rubber gloves (especially if you have any cuts or sores on your hands or arms), boots, masks and some type of eyewear when taking out the trash.

PIX11 Digital Producer Alyssa Zauderer contributed to this report.