SOUTH BRONX — A rare disease spread via rat urine has killed one person and sickened two others on the same block in the Concourse neighborhood, according to the New York City Health Department.
The victims, two of whom have since recovered, were all diagnosed with leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that can lead to fever, headaches and vomiting, as well as life-threatening kidney and liver diseases in rare cases, according to the city.
The three Bronx cases all occurred on the same block. Two of the patients were diagnosed with the illness in December, and one was diagnosed in February.
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. issued a blistering critique of both the city's inability to deal with rats throughout the five boroughs and of the conditions at 750 Grand Concourse, where one of the victims is believed to have lived.
"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," he said. "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."
The building is owned by notorious landlord Ved Parkash.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Public Advocate Letitia James announced in May that it was one of the “dirty dozen” buildings where the city would stop paying rent for tenants on public assistance if the landlords did not fix their building code violations.
Sharon Green, a 60-year-old tenant at the building, said rats have been a huge problem at 750 Grand Concourse for years.
"This has been an ongoing thing. You hear them scratching every night under the floor trying to get through," she said. "But nobody wants to do nothing until someone is sick or dies."
Tenant Annie Rivers, 64, agreed and stressed that the rats they are forced to deal with are extremely large.
"We're all living in fear of them. They're the size of squirrels and they're bold," she said. "They'll walk out during the day. At night, you can't even walk in the basement."
Parkash said there would be a press conference at the building tonight at 6:30 p.m.
The Health Department is now working to reduce the neighborhood's rat population and educating residents about signs of the disease, as well as how to avoid it and how to treat it.
It is very uncommon for leptospirosis to be transferred from one person to another, and the illness can be treated with antibiotics, according to the Health Department.
The city typically sees between one and three cases of leptospirosis per year, and the bacteria get into the body through cuts in the skin or the nose, eyes or mouth.
To prevent the disease, the Health Department recommended taking precautions including washing hands after being in contact with any areas where rats might live and using a solution of one part household bleach and 10 parts water to kill the bacteria when cleaning up an area where rats have been.
Diaz said that the rarity of leptospirosis does not make up for the fact that it has killed a Bronxite.
“While the city reports that this is a rare occurrence, one death is too many when it comes to the lack of addressing basic maintenance issues," he said. "Extermination is part of the responsibility of all landlords, commercial or residential."