1 dead, 2 sick from rare rat-related illness

City health officials say a rare rat-related bacterial infection has killed one person and made two others sick.

All three cases were contracted on the 700 block of the Grand Concourse between December and February and caused by leptospirosis, which can be spread by contact with rat urine, health experts say.

The victims' names have not yet been released.

Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett toured 750 Grand Concourse Wednesday afternoon with members of the Department of Health, Department of Housing Preservation and Development and Department of Buildings before addressing the community about the illnesses, saying that the root of the problem is the building's basement.

"This is actually in one of the department's 15 rat reservoir areas in the Bronx," Bassett said. "Typically, rodent infestation is the result of a whole ecology which permits rodents to live and thrive."

She said such areas contain several common attributes. They include water sources, hiding places for rats, and the ability to enter buildings through basements and "structural deficiencies."

Tenants of the building say they have a noticeable rat problem. Officials said they would be "aggressive" in enforcing compliance with the building owner.

According to the Department of Health, between one and three cases of leptospirosis were reported in New York City each year since 2006. There have been 26 cases in the city since 2006.

Health officials say they are taking immediate measures to decrease the number of rats in the area.

Officials say they have had a history with the landlord of the building, which has been slapped with numerous violations. It has been ranked one of the city's worst buildings, according to public advocate Letitia James. But officials say landlord Ved Parkash has so far been cooperative.

At a meeting Wednesday night, the city gave tenants of 750 Grand Concourse a chance to voice their concerns over the situation. Many called for the building to be taken away from Parkash.

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