A cluster of cases of a rare bacterial infection that is spread by contact with rat urine has killed one person and sickened two others in the Bronx. The infection can develop into an illness that affects the victim's kidneys and liver.
The New York City Health Department says all of the cases are linked to one block in the Concourse area of the borough. While one person has died, the other two have recovered and are doing well, according to health officials.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is most commonly spread by contact with rat urine and is very rarely spread from person to person.
The illness can be serious but is treatable with readily available antibiotics. Two patients in the outbreak were diagnosed in December and one in February.
This is the first cluster ever identified in New York City. The block is home to four schools, two elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school. City officials say they have passed inspections and there is no signs of rodents inside the schools.
The Health Department says it is taking immediate measures to reduce the rat population in the area. It says it is also trying to educate people who live in the area about precautions, signs, and treatment.
In December, inspectors issued multiple violations for 'harborage' conditions at 750 Grand Concourse (on both the exterior and interior of the building) and ordered the building's landlord to immediately remediate the basement and affected apartments.
On Monday, February 13, after the third case of Leptospirosis was confirmed at that address crews started to immediately bait the basement of the building. The two other cases occurred in persons who were not residents, but spent significant time on that block, but not in the building.
The city says there are 79 open violations at the building and one information order. There are also 25 open construction code violations dating back to 2004 at the building in question.
Officials say that none of the victims were bitten by rats. The bacteria enter the body through open wounds and cuts in the skin or through the eyes, nose or mouth.
Leptospirosis is considered extremely rare in the city. There are typically one to three cases a year and there have only been 26 cases since 2006 and one prior death.
Health officials warn to avoid contact with rats or with places where rats may have urinated. They also recommend washing hands thoroughly with soap and water after any contact with areas where rats may live.
A meeting was planned for Wednesday night for tenets of the building. The city said masks would be distributed for anyone to wear when going into the building's basement.