Increased demand for neighborhood rat extermination services in Baltimore County has prompted the county to add two contractors in the last year.
Under a program started in 2009, outside contractors check two or three neighborhoods a week, in response to complaints from residents.
Through late October, the county has fielded 1,862 complaints about rats, surpassing the 1,856 complaints in all of 2015.
Since last October, the county has twice added contractors, increasing from one to three. In 2015, workers did 32 exterminations and the total for the first 10 months of this year is 97, the county said.
The added resources have reduced to one month or less the wait time for inspections and remediation services, which had been up to four months, said Adam Whitlock, a code enforcement officer for Baltimore County.
"We didn't want to be scheduling six months out because we didn't have (a contractor) available," he said.
The county, through its "Rat Attack" program, works with neighborhood groups and community associations to bring inspectors and licensed contractors out to check properties.
Reports of widespread problems can prompt a neighborhood sweep for rats. One healthy Norway rat, the most common type found in the area, can produce up to seven litters of babies a year, with as many as a dozen in each litter, according to a county fact sheet. The rodents typically grow 12 to 18 inches, plus tail.
In the 2015 budget year, the county spent $6,352 to battle rats, with one exterminator under contract. In 2016, $34,756 was spent. In fiscal 2017, which started July 1, $16,329 has been spent through Oct. 1.
Each of the three contractors work in two or three neighborhoods per week, Whitlock said. They do one inspection, then another two weeks later.
A group of environmental scientists who have been going door-to-door in West Baltimore for the past three years have found that lower income neighborhoods have far higher numbers of mosquitoes. That may increase the risk of mosquito-borne disease.
During the extermination process, the contractor looks for active rat holes. If one is seen, a rodenticide powder is put down the hole, which is then collapsed, Whitlock said. It's then marked with spray paint. Exterminators will leave a red ribbon around a fence to let residents know the land has been exterminated and a yellow ribbon to indicate it was inspected, but no action was needed.
The process takes about three to four minutes per property, depending on the size, Whitlock said.
"When we go in we don't ever want to sacrifice quality for quantity," he said. "We tell exterminators to go in, take your time and do what you need to do in each yard."
After an extermination happens, county code inspectors will do a sweep. Inspectors can give out violations for food sources that can lure the rodents — improper storage of trash not in a container with a tight lid, a large amount of debris on the property or dog feces on the property. Violators face a $300 fine.
In an October 2015 sweep in the Paradise community in Catonsville, inspectors gave out 57 citations, Whitlock said.
The sweep worked out, according to Joe Pallozzi, president of the Paradise Community Association. Recently he has heard of few issues with rats, but he and his neighbors believe they are due to construction near the Beltway.
Crews are expected to return to Paradise in mid-November to follow up, Whitlock said.
According to the National Pest Management Association, rodents consume or contaminate about 20 percent of the world's food supply. Rats transmit disease organisms such as Rat-bite Fever, Salmonella, trichinosis, murine typhus, plague and Leptospirosis.