BUFFALO, NY-- Erie County residents who had a problem with rats would often call their local government and they in turn would pass the problem along to the Vector Control unit in the County Health Department. But that unit is now gone because of budget cuts and a change in priorities and disease patterns.
Dr. Scott Zimmerman of the Erie County Public Health Lab says three employees who handled control of rats and other pests like mosquitoes were cut from the budget in January. Zimmerman says five other employees in the unit now focus on the health threat posed by rabies.
Zimmerman says some of the rat control issues have been reduced with the increasing use of covered trash containers and totes in many communities. He says they will still investigate rat problems but then suggest a property owner contact a private exterminator to actually bait the property with rat poison.
Dr. Zimmerman says they have also determined that the West Nile virus, which is spread by mosquitos, is not as severe as was originally thought. Zimmerman says the last known death in Erie County from West Nile occurred back in 2002 when a 76 year old man contracted the disease.
Zimmerman says the county's primary focus is now on the threat of rabies which has no known cure. The only treatment is a round of expensive shots. The number of rabies exposure or potential exposure cases has spiked in recent years.