A rare bacterial disease, spread by contact with rat urine, infected three people, one fatally, in the Bronx, city officials said.
Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Travis Bassett said on Wednesday that two cases of leptospirosis were diagnosed in December and connected to a small business, while the third case, diagnosed in February, originated from 750 Grand Concourse. Both locations are close to each other and Bassett said the three cases are being considered a “cluster.”
One of the patients who was diagnosed in December died as a result of the disease. The two other patients recovered, officials said.
“Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection that is most commonly spread by contact with rat urine and is very rarely spread from person to person,” the Health Department said in a statement. “This illness can be serious but is treatable with readily available antibiotics.”
There are typically one to three cases of the disease per year in the city, officials said.
Rosa Flores, 73, said her son was one of the three who was diagnosed with leptospirosis. She said he was vomiting and had a fever but was hesitant to go to the hospital at first.
“My son could have died,” Flores said, adding that he wound up spending three weeks at Lincoln Medical & Mental Health Center before being released last week.
Flores, who lives in the B-level in the basement of 750 Grand Concourse, said she has seen rats in her apartment before.
“We can’t live here. The city said we can’t,” she said, adding that her son has been staying at a hotel in Queens since he was released from the hospital.
A health department team quickly identified a rodent infestation and garbage problem at the building, Bassett said.
“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,” Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said in a statement. “The city knows this, and has done nothing to help the tenants alleviate this issue.”
HPD Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer confirmed there are open violations at the building.
“...The landowner of this building is someone who we have had a history with over the course of the last few years,” she said.
The number of open violations against the building has gone down, Torres-Springer added, from about 300 a year ago to about 80 now.
The landlord of 750 Grand Concourse, Ved Parkash, was listed as the fourth-worst landlord in New York City by Public Advocate Letitia James.
“Building owner Ved Parkash bears responsibility for this tragedy and must be held accountable,” James said in a statement on Wednesday. “The rat infestation at the building can be directly attributed to his blatant neglect and it has placed the building’s tenants and neighbors in grave danger.”
“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,” Diaz said. “Extermination is part of the responsibility of all landlords, commercial or residential.”
Bassett said city agencies and the landlord have already begun to remedy the situation.
“This is an active process and I don’t want to say that it’s ended. But we have cleared out the underlying garbage problem and are beginning to address the structural problems,” she said, adding that Parkash called in an exterminator.
“We are on the way but rodents, as any New Yorker knows, are very determined creatures,” she said.
Tyeast Anderson, 52, who has lived at 750 Grand Concourse for about two years, said she has seen rodents in her own apartment twice.
“You hear them,” she said, tapping her fingers against the wall to mimic the scurrying.
“There was one time I came out to go to work and there was a dead rat in the trap on the staircase,” she added. “Somebody just threw it. So these are the conditions that we live in.”
Annie Rivers, 64, who has lived in the building for 22 years, said she sees rats at the building on a daily basis, but never in her own apartment.
“We all have fear of them,” she said. “At nighttime you can’t even really walk outside. We’ve always had them.”
Leptospirosis can be caught through open wounds and cuts on the skin, or through contact with eyes, nose or mouth. Some people may experience symptoms including mild illness with fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting or diarrhea, but others may not show symptoms, health officials said.
Precautions against the disease including avoiding contact with rats and areas where rats have urinated. Additionally, washing hands thoroughly after any contact with areas where rats may have urinated is recommended.
With Lauren Cook