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[whitespace] Just Call It the Year of the Rat

San Jose--Rats are on the rise, and the Santa Clara County vector control officials aren't sure why.

The agency received 10,322 calls regarding rat infestations and sightings this year, according to program coordinator Russ Parman. Fifty-five of those calls came from Saratoga, the fourth highest number of calls in one year from the city since 1990. Rat-call records dating to 1990 were shattered in Los Gatos, San Jose, Cupertino and Gilroy, which saw the number of calls vary from 73 in Los Gatos to 705 in San Jose.

Districtwide, Parman said, 1998 has seen the second-highest number of calls.

"And we don't have an explanation for that," he said.

Parman speculated, however, that the infestation could be El Niņo related, citing that last year's rains added to plant growth, which, in turn, meant more hiding spots, such as banks of ivy, for the critters.

"The ivy is always a good habitat for the rats," Parman said.

Roof rats nest indoors and under buildings or in wood and rubbish piles and ivy. And roof rats are good climbers and agile, able to squeeze through half-inch openings with ease.

Some Saratogans don't need to be told that this is the year of the rat.

"I've never seen it quite like this," one resident, who asked not to be identified, said. Another resident said she and her husband have trapped some 12 rodents just since the summer months.

But, Parman said, there are steps that can be taken to get rid of the rats, including first determining the extent of the problem.

The agency offers free home and yard inspections to determine how bad a rat problem is and what might be attracting the rats. Inspectors also offer advice for how to "rat-proof" a home.

Discouraging rats from staying around a home means getting rid of what the rodents are seeking.

"Basically, on any given piece of property, rats are after food and shelter," Parman said.

Officials suggest residents store food in glass or metal containers; refrigerate fresh fruits and vegetables; stuff holes or openings in a home with steel wool or cover with sheet metal; make sure garbage can lids fit securely; screen both the top and bottom of downspouts; and eliminate any standing water that the rodents could use as a drinking source.

For more information, or to inquire about an inspection, call Vector Control at 299-2050.
Sarah Lombardo

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