Rat poison ban could mean pest outbreak

Everywhere that people live in buildings, rats live too. In many places, including here in Britain, the most common kind of rat is the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus). In different settings the rat is a charming pet (sometimes bred in different colours), a useful lab animal (usually bred to be white) or a disease-carrying pest. You can follow my ‘rat’ tag for more about this animal.

When you have a rat problem in your buildings or on your land, here’s some advice about how to get rid. You can reduce your risk of getting a rat problem by not leaving food lying about. But that means being careful how you compost and it probably means not feeding wild birds. Cats might help, but not much. Live trapping might help too but where are you going to release the rats? Sadly, rat poison is sometimes part of the solution.

Louise Gray at the Telegraph tells us about the ‘second generation’ of rat poisons. These poisons aren’t new – they’ve been in use for decades.

But now, our British Government’s Health and Safety Executive is being very cautious. Ms Gray says that the second-generation poisons aren’t to be used within 5m of buildings. She tells us how several groups of people think this rule is too cautious.

This doesn’t sound very sensible, does it? So much caution about second-generation pesticides to kill rats. So little caution about neonicotinoid pesticides to protect crops while – oops – killing bees.

Last year, when we had floods, rats were on the move. It’s likely to happen again. That’s no joke, partly because rats sometimes carry leptospirosis. That’s a zoonotic disease, meaning that rats can give it to people. It’s also called Weil’s disease. Ms Gray misspelled that name (‘vial’s disease’), so I wonder whether she’s ever encountered it. I hope not. Weil’s disease is the main reason why you don’t want to get bitten by a wild rat. You don’t want your children to get bitten either. And you don’t want rat pee on your skin if you’ve any cuts.

If the caution about ‘second-generation’ rat poisons is indeed too much caution, we might see people getting Weil’s disease. I hope we won’t.

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About argylesock

I wrote a PhD about veterinary parasitology so that's the starting point for this blog. But I'm now branching out into other areas of biology and into popular science writing. I'll write here about science that happens in landscapes, particularly farmland, and about science involving interspecific interactions. Datasets and statistics get my attention. Exactly where this blog will lead? That's a journey that I'm on and I hope you'll come with me.
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10 Responses to Rat poison ban could mean pest outbreak

  1. It’s not often that I correct you, but Rattus Norvegicus are mostly bred as fancy rats now. The biggest part of any Rat problem these days is Rattus Rattus – the black Rat. Brown Rats are generally harmless and stick to woodland, and if you *do* happen to see one it means that somebody isn’t disposing of their waste in an appropriate way. The flats near us have communal bins, but even given that we rarely see a Rat.

    As a Rat lover and ex Rat owner I may be slightly biased, but I do know my Rat facts 🙂

  2. Carol Hague says:

    I’m not a big fan of rat poison (one of my cats died as a result of eating either the poison or a rodent which had eaten it), but I see the necessity of controlling the rat population and agree that the imbalance between the government’s actions on this and on neonicotinoids makes them look rather stupid.

    I worked as a temp for the department of a city council which dealt with waste disposal for a while All the people who worked with litter in any capacity were given a card to show their doctor, so that the doc was aware they were potentially at risk from Weil’s disease – it’s something to be taken very seriously. I can’t recall where now, but I’ve seen it said about Weil’s that “You get the symptoms of a cold for a bout a week – and then you die….” Not something we want proliferating .

    • argylesock says:

      Indeed we don’t. I hope you and yours never got Weil’s. I learned about it as an undergrad in Oxford, when we were told to take care when punting on the river. Going for a swim might seem like fun until a rat sinks its teeth in. More likely, until you find out that the water contained rat pee http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2015434/From-E-coli-Weils-disease-perils-outdoor-swimming–avoid-them.html

      • Carol Hague says:

        I wasn’t in a role that brought me into contact with Weil’s, I’m glad to say, but thank you. I didn’t hear of any of the workers who were in such roles ever contracting it either, but presumably that’s at least partly because the council were diligent about making them aware of the risk.

        Being bitten would be an obvious red flag of course, but it’s good that your college made you aware of the risk of water infected with rat pee. Lovely thought 😦

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