singapore Singapore's rat problem: Common myths and health risks

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SINGAPORE — Deanne Baptista, manager of local pest control company Origin Exterminators, has a story involving rats that sounds like a plot from a horror movie.

Her team was once called in after the rodents were sighted at a wet market. Fearing that the news could be bad for business, stallholders set up traps and cages.

Baptista quipped: "Basically, everyone thought of themselves as a rat catcher."

The situation turned comical when people could not remember what they placed where. They also did not know what to do once a rat was caught. And no one informed the pest control team about what they had done.

"So, by the time we initiated our action plan, we were greeted by not live rats but many decomposed ones," Ms Baptista recalled, adding that the stench was unbearable.

The incident is not a one-off. Rats have been making regular headlines all over the island in recent months.

In November 2023, a video of a rat lying on a tray of untouched food at Tangs Market went viral. A month later, a rat was discovered and captured in a cafeteria at the Institute of Technical Education College West in Choa Chu Kang.

Adding to the concern, veterinarians reported in January a surge in cases of leptospirosis, a bacterial infection primarily spread through the urine of rodents, which can affect both animals and humans.

In humans, a leptospirosis infection can result in symptoms ranging from a high fever and muscle pain in mild cases to bleeding in the lungs and meningitis in more severe ones.

Residents of Hougang have also complained of a persistent rat infestation, enduring for five years repeated damage to their car engine wires at a carpark in Hougang Avenue 8.

The three most prevalent types of rats in Singapore are the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus), roof rat (Rattus rattus) and house mouse (Mus musculus).

The Norway rat, often referred to as the brown or sewer rat, can reportedly grow to the size of a kitten. 

Norway rats are excellent swimmers and prefer to seek food from a single source.

Roof rats, as their name implies, prefer elevated spaces. Agile climbers, they often take refuge in ceilings, like to travel in groups and are active during the night.

House mice, despite their small size, are prolific breeders, capable of giving birth to 20 pups each time. Theoretically, their numbers can expand from two to two million within 24 months in an environment free from predator and human intervention.

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