Hungry Rats May Become 'Aggressive' amid COVID-19 Restaurant Shutdowns, CDC Says
The CDC says that a decrease in food available to rodents is leading to their unusual behavior
Rats have lost a central source of food after the coronavirus outbreak led to the closure of restaurants across the country — and now, the wild rodents may become unusually violent as they fight for survival.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a warning that cities may see rats display "unusual or aggressive" behavior in the coming weeks as food establishments remain closed or open to limited service.
"Rodents rely on the food and waste generated by these establishments," the CDC reported. "Community-wide closures have led to a decrease in food available to rodents, especially in dense commercial areas."
The CDC offered guidance for residents and restaurants and suggested they eliminate conditions that may attract or support rodents, which includes sealing up homes and businesses to prevent access for rats, and removing debris and pet food from yards.
In an interview with NBC News, urban rodentologist Bobby Corrigan said the reduction in food has led to fighting among different rat populations.
"It's just like we've seen in the history of mankind, where people try to take over lands and they come in with militaries and armies and fight to the death, literally, for who's going to conquer that land," Corrigan said. "That's what happens with rats. A new 'army' of rats come in, and whichever army has the strongest rats is going to conquer that area."
“They are going to war with each other... and battling each other for the food they can find,” Corrigan added to The New York Times. “But the rats that live and eat in residential blocks probably haven’t noticed a single bit of difference during the shutdown.”
Facing starvation, some rats have even turned to eating their own young, Corrigan said.
"They're mammals just like you and I, and so when you're really, really hungry, you're not going to act the same — you're going to act very bad, usually," he explained. "So these rats are fighting with one another, now the adults are killing the young in the nest and cannibalizing the pups."
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As these rats move to new areas in search of food, they also can bring with them fleas and rodent-borne diseases, the CDC said. Their urine can also worsen allergies and asthma, particularly in children, according to the Washington Post.
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