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Take Five: Meet Robert Cummings, OC Mosquito and Vector Control District

By AMY SENK

Like many cities, Newport Beach has a dirty little secret – rodents. But this summer more than ever, it seems like rat reports have been the talk of the town. It’s been a hot topic among neighbors on the street and on social media sites, and this week, Real Housewife of OC Kelly Dodd talked about it in the season premiere, ruminating about whether a feral cat might be the answer. To find out more, I caught up with Robert Cummings, Director of Scientific Technical Services for the Orange County Vector Control District.

Take Five Meet RobertCummings portrait

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Courtesy of OC Vector Control District

Robert Cummings

Q: There’s been buzz around Newport Beach and Corona del Mar on social media and among neighbors about seeing more rats this summer. Has it been a bad summer for rats, and if so, what could be causing it? Or is it normal to see more rat activity in the hotter months? (I also notice people complain of rats after demolition of a home – with so much new construction, could this be a contributing factor?)

A: The roof rat is the leading cause of rodent problems in Orange County. Roof rat populations naturally increase in the spring and summer, which can create an additional awareness about rats in communities. During warm weather, residents often spend more time outdoors, barbecuing and enjoying the longer days, which may also lead them to seeing more signs of rat activity around their homes. In addition, hotter weather brings rats closer to residential homes as they look for food and water. The Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control District has not received any reports or noticed a large increase in rat populations in the county besides a natural, seasonal increase. As for new construction, if rats were using an area around a home or site for shelter, the demolition of that area could cause the rats to be displaced.  This displacement would contribute to more people noticing an increase in rat activity around that site.

Q: Rats have a bad reputation – are they dangerous or diseased?

A: Roof rats in Orange County can and have been known to carry diseases that can make people sick. The most common method of exposure to rodent-borne diseases is through the consumption of food or water that has been contaminated with rodent feces. However, after many years of testing thousands of rats in the county, the district has determined that the chances of someone getting infected with a rat-borne illness is extremely low. Roof rats can also be infested with biting mites, which will attack people when rat infestations are heavy.

Q: I’ve heard stories about rats getting into the hoods of cars and chewing up wiring and such – is this common, and is there any way to prevent this? What other places do rats like to go?

A: Rats are looking for three main things: food, water and shelter. Rats like to take shelter in dark, concealed places where they feel safe. Some examples would be thick vegetation, shrubs or plants; in BBQs and sheds; and inside crawl spaces and garages. As part of their anatomy, rats need to continuously chew in order to file down their teeth. This can lead to homeowners noticing rat gnawing around their property, including wiring in vehicles and homes. The best course of action is to set traps and rat proof in and around your home to make your property unattractive to rats and prevent them from accessing inside your home. 

Q: What is the best advice you have for someone trying to deal with a rat problem around their home?

A: The best method for rat control is to eliminate sources of food, water and shelter on the property. This will make your property unattractive to rats and limit their presence around the home. Shelter for rats includes dense vegetation, which should be thinned out or removed. If rats are inside a home, the District recommends the use of traps to eliminate them, identifying rat entry points, and sealing these access areas to prevent rats from entering the home. 

Q: What kind of work does Orange County Vector Control do to deal with rats?

A: The district provides an education program to help residents when they are having issues with rats. A district inspector will come out to a home and assess the situation to determine the best way to handle the rodent problem. The Inspector will check the exterior of the home and the yard to point out potential attractants to rats and possible access points that rats may be entering through. After a careful review of the property, the Inspector may provide traps to control rats on the property. Homeowners can learn how to rodent proof their homes by visiting www.ocvector.org/rats.

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Amy Senk is a long-time resident of Corona del Mar and a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.