They have been a problem in the Eugene area in the past — eating the wiring out of your Subaru, invading your home and chewing insulation and food stores.
They carry diseases like the hantavirus and can transmit typhus and the plague — not what you want to think about as you stay at home assiduously avoiding COVID-19.
But now is a good time to start thinking about rats, the problems they pose and if they are moving into your backyard or the office you are not currently inhabiting downtown.
Eugene Weekly’s quiet offices began showing signs of rats moving in shortly after the majority of staffers began to shelter in place at home. That was about the time reports began coming in of rats in the streets of New Orleans and rats partying in Seattle parks in broad daylight.
“We have seen this pattern time and time again” after a disaster, says Matthew Luedtke, a Lane County health inspector.
Researchers at Tulane University found that “when humans abandoned spaces, the rats moved in” after Hurricane Katrina.
Luedtke says that he would not be surprised if there were a surge of rat sightings. That’s because we are at the end of a prolonged period of rain and many restaurants have ceased operations due to the virus, leaving their normal food waste unavailable. It’s also due to the popularity of composting and chicken raising. It’s not that there are necessarily more rats, but they are hungry and more visible.
Rats and the diseases they carry may not be so much of a risk to the public now, Luedtke says, but they could be when people return to their businesses. “Rats are going to continue to wander until they find food. People will see them more and more.”
Luedtke says that while rats can travel up to a quarter mile normally, they might go as far as a mile if looking for a new food supply.
Mike Kesecker, general manager at Good Earth Pest Company, says, “As of now, we have not seen a significant increase of rodent activity in our area,” but he says, “I imagine we will see a spike in activity as people return to their businesses, though, finding rodents have made themselves comfortable in those buildings while people are away.”
Kesecker says the pest control company has “heard reports from colleagues in Seattle and New York City who have seen an increase of rats in public areas due to the absence of people.”
But a Eugene-Springfield rat takeover is not inevitable. And rats likely aren’t going to start tangling with humans when we move back in. “Normally rats don’t get aggressive,” Luedtke says. “They generally don’t like people.”
And, he says, you can be proactive — limit food debris and keep compost bins and your garbage area clean. “Garbage is picked up weekly because of fly and rodent cycles,” he says, but one thing people forget to do is clean and dump compost each week.
And if you were one of the many people who decided to suddenly become a backyard chicken farmer when the stay at home order hit, you need to learn what other area backyard farmers have been learning — spilled chicken feed attracts rats.
Things like a chicken coop, dirty compost bin and spilled feed “create a perfect harborage condition for wandering rats,” Luedtke says. He recommends getting a covered and sealed compost bin such as the rotating drum-type.
“This is the perfect time for people to really pay attention to how they do their composting, how often they clean their bins,” he says, pointing out that between composting and a possible rise in animal husbandry, people really need to be conscious of what they are doing. Luedtke also recommends getting rid of piles of twigs and leaves in the yard to reduce nesting.
In terms of getting into your home or office, rats and mice can squeeze into really small spaces — a quarter inch for mice, and rats can easily squeeze under a half inch gap under a door. Luedtke suggests filling small spaces with construction foam and steel wool.
The good news is there is no sign yet that rats can transmit SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and you can take steps right now to prevent coming back to a rat-infested office or seeing the rodents partying in your backyard.
Find out more about preventing rat infestations from the city of Eugene at Eugene-or.gov/3838/Rats.