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Rat-Related Disease Kills 1, Bronx Residents Angered By Infestation

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A neighborhood in the Bronx is being targeted by New York City health department officials after one person died and two others became severely ill from contracting a rare disease transmitted by rats.

The disease is called leptospirosis and it commonly occurs through exposure to rat urine. It can be treated with antibiotics.

One of the patients, a 43-year-old man, told CBS2 that he's feeling better and is recovering with antibiotics.

During a news conference Wednesday night, the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said it is a rare infection. She urged anyone with flu-like symptoms to see a health care professional.

The infections began two months ago and are linked to one neighborhood.

Residents living in illegal apartments in the basement of 750 Grand Concourse were ordered to vacate the building.

In a statement, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., said:

"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, nor does it have good ideas to do so.

"750 Grand Concourse has long been regarded as one of the worst buildings in the city, with nearly 1,500 complaints of all kinds, including rodents, with many unresolved. The city knows this and has done nothing to help the tenants alleviate this issue, not only in this building but in communities across the five boroughs."

At an emergency meeting Wednesday night, angry residents spoke out against city officials and the building's owner.

Residents say they have complained for years about the rat problem with no resolution.

City officials say efforts to control the rat population have been stepped up — including better garbage control and extermination.

Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement late Wednesday:

"We stand with the tenants. After deploying numerous tools to address persistent problems at this building, we are working with housing advocates and tenants to lodge an action against the landlord to take over operations. We will not rest until we've exhausted every measure to ensure the health and safety of these residents."

The mayor's office also released a fact sheet for people to learn more about leptospirosis.

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Doreen McCallister
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
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