With public concern rising about disease, property damage, is it time to step up the war on rats?


Recent spikes in rat infestations have people worried, with good reason.

With public concern on the upswing about sudden spikes in Vancouver’s rat population, I’ll be asking city staff next week to update council as soon as possible on the city’s rat suppression programs.

Rats aren’t new to Vancouver and there’s plenty of pointed information on the city’s website to help residents find the right resources to exterminate rats in their homes, on city property or on commercial premises.

The bottom line: do not leave out food, particularly garbage. (Those overflowing garbage bins we often see downtown, by the way, are usually filled with discarded take-out coffee cups, leaving no room for proper disposal of all kinds of garbage that rats appreciate.) Abandoned buildings can also be a problem.

Partly in response to these concerns, the latest city budget added $2.8 million to the waste management departments to improve street cleanliness and to retool the city’s recycling programs.

But for the last two months I’ve been hearing more and more complaints about serious rat infestations and seen them in the summaries of correspondence circulated to councillors. One hot spot seems to be Renfrew Heights.

City staff are well aware of the concern and an update on new initiatives should come quickly. If more is needed, the plans and resources are in place.

Recent research by the Vancouver Rat Project has highlighted the presence of drug-resistant bacteria in rat droppings in Vancouver rats, including c. difficile and the superbug MRSA.

But this research also found that rat populations can vary dramatically from block to block, with one block have significant numbers, while the next is rat free.

Even more important, perhaps, was the finding that one rat colony harbouring very serious pathogens may exist next door to another that is disease-free. Dispersal of the disease-laden colony could be a big mistake.

Is it time to step up the war on rats? It’s a question city officials have been asking for centuries and the answer always seems to be “yes.” But the latest Vancouver research suggests there are smart ways and dumb ways to fight the battles.