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City's Response to Rat Urine Disease Has Bronx Tenants Frustrated, Scared

By  Eddie Small and Trevor Kapp | February 15, 2017 5:46pm 

 A tenant at 750 Grand Concourse got sick from an illness called leptospirosis, a rare disease transmitted by rat urine.
A tenant at 750 Grand Concourse got sick from an illness called leptospirosis, a rare disease transmitted by rat urine.
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DNAinfo/Eddie Small

CONCOURSE — Residents at a building where a tenant got sick from a rare disease transmitted via rat urine are on edge about their safety and frustrated by the pace of the city's response to the large amount of rats at their building.

"They're only acting now that somebody died, and that's how I feel," said Tracey Nelson, who has lived at 750 Grand Concourse for 20 years. "This is something that's been an ongoing thing."

The Health Department recently announced that three people in the Concourse neighborhood of the South Bronx were sickened with leptospirosis, a bacterial infection spread by rat urine that can cause flu-like symptoms or, in rare cases, life threatening kidney or liver diseases.

One victim lived at 750 Grand Concourse, while the other two worked at a nearby small business, according to the Health Department.

The disease killed one of the workers at the small business, but the other two people have since recovered, officials said.

Two patients were diagnosed with leptospirosis in December, while the third was diagnosed in February, according to the city.

Much of the rodent problem at 750 Grand Concourse appeared to be concentrated in the building's basement, which smelled rancid, as if garbage had been left in it for weeks.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett said city officials had been on site at the building for the past 48 hours and identified a problem with rodents and garbage management, but she indicated that fixing the building would be an ongoing process.

"This is an active process, and I don’t want to say that it’s ended," she said, "but we have cleared out the underlying garbage problem and are beginning to address the structural problems."

However, tenant Sharon Green, who has lived at 750 Grand Concourse for 10 years, said she was still unclear about what exactly the Health Department was doing to improve their building.

“We didn’t really hear nothing," she said. "I want to know if she’s going to put mousetraps down there and slam, bam, that’s it.”

So far, the Department of Buildings has vacated eight illegal units in the basement of 750 Grand Concourse, and the Red Cross offered tenants relocation assistance, according to the Mayor's Office.

The Health Department, along with DOB and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, are also working with the building owner, Ved Parkash, and other nearby building owners to set rodent traps, seal cracks and holes and remove debris.

New York City typically experiences between one to three cases of leptospirosis per year, but the cases in Concourse are the first cluster that has ever been identified in New York City, according to the mayor's office.