Rats! Durban needs a pied piper

By Angela Bolowana Time of article published Feb 9, 2004

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Durban is facing a "potentially serious" rodent problem as an increasing number of residents report cases of rats in their homes and places of business, and of rodents biting sleeping children, chewing and destroying clothes and other possessions, and stealing and contaminating food.

The situation has prompted city experts and national and in-ternational agencies to explore solutions to the problem.

The experts are also conducting a study for possible rodent-borne diseases.

In Mozambique a similar study revealed that up to 70 percent of the population in some villages were infected by leptospirosis, a rodent-borne disease.

In Durban, the eThekwini Council's Health Department has been setting cage traps around the metro to collect live samples of rodents from different areas, including the city's hotspots.

The Divisional Manager of Vector Control in eThekwini Health, Glenn Brickell, said the division had collected "a competent sample of different sizes" which was made easy by the tendency of families to follow if one of the members was trapped.

The division collected 200 rodents last year. Its target is 600.

The Head of the Unicity Health Department, Dr Urmila Sanker, said the city constantly kept watch on rats and there was no threat of rodent-borne diseases yet.

She said the city ensured the tightest preventive controls.

She said there were extensive projects in the central business district, the harbour and along the beachfront because there was a risk of diseases coming in from other countries.

The team leader of the study in Durban, Dr Peter Taylor, of the Natural Science Museum, said the study, called Ratzooman, had been conducted in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Tanzania. The European Union financed the study.

"Rodents and rodent-borne diseases are a serious and growing public health concern in all of the world's major cities. Durban is no exception. Durban's rats are on the increase, as are public complaints about them," said Taylor.

"Recent studies have found high levels of leptospirosis infection in humans."

In a survey conducted by Dr Steve Belmain (study project director), of 1 200 households in three villages in Mozambique, it was found that up to 70 percent of humans were infected by leptospirosis, a debilitating disease which can have of up to a 10 percent mortality rate."

The study will investigate if local rats can transmit diseases like bubonic plague, leptospirosis and toxoplasmosis.

On Monday Belmain will give a lecture in Cato Manor.

He will also be visiting the hot spots and will advise council officials, experts and affected societies.

A Cato Manor resident, who only gave her name as Thembi, said a rodent had bitten her on the foot two weeks ago.

She said she had not bothered to go to the clinic after the bite because she "did not think much of it", but after a few days she noticed sores on her foot.

The symptoms of the diseases are mostly fever, painful swelling of glands, chills and sore muscles.

Bubonic plague, the most deadly of the diseases, leaves black spots on the skin.

The outbreak of this disease in the 14th century in Europe led to the death of 25 million people.

But Taylor said there was no cause for alarm as there was no proof of any of those diseases in Durban.

The study focused on hot spots like informal settlements, Warwick Avenue, formal residential areas, the harbour, Wilson's Wharf and Durban central businesses like restaurants, supermarkets and shops.

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