A national trade body is urging householders in Durham to take steps to prevent rats seeking refuge in their homes from the winter flooding.
Areas across the UK have been hit by localised flooding after weeks of wet and mild weather were followed by heavy rain in January.
The British Pest Control Association (BPCA), is urging householders to take preventative steps now to avoid the risk of an infestation.
Dee Ward-Thompson, BPCA Technical Manager, said: “Each year winter weather forces some rats to seek warmer, indoor spaces near a source of food, but flooding can drive even more rats out of their burrow, forcing them to find a new place to nest.
“Rats are strong swimmers and are capable of 72 hours’ non-stop swimming in their search for a new home.
“They can travel along flooded drains, surviving even the most aggressive weather conditions, which is a definite concern from a public health perspective.
“Rats may use pipes, as well as unscreened vents or gaps in the eaves and roof edges, to gain access.
“Rats are exceptionally agile and despite their size, even adult males can get through gaps and crevices as small as two centimetres.
“Once inside they will head under the floor or find a warm space to build a nest in the walls or loft.”
BPCA recommends householders plug any gaps, holes or crevices in exterior walls in a bid to prevent rats gaining access in the first place.
Drain covers should also be checked to ensure they fit properly and disused pipes sealed off.
Dee added: “Rats can have a devastating impact on householders. The sound of them scuttling around in the walls or roof can also be extremely distressing.
“And while one rat in the home is an immediate problem, they have a rapid breeding cycle, so an infestation can escalate quickly.
“Rats should be dealt with by a professional pest controller who knows the area, can identify their likely habitat, and has the knowledge and experience to treat any particular issue.
“A BPCA member company will be able to treat infestations quickly and safely using a range of techniques while minimising risk to the environment.
“Members are trained in rat control and have access to a range of professional use rodenticides that are not available to the public, as well as monitoring equipment to help identify the size of the infestation and track a rat back to the nest, so they can tackle the problem safely.”
BPCA members are trained, qualified and audited to the British Standard in Pest Management BS EN 16636.
For more information about pest problems, or to find a BPCA member, visit: bpca.org.uk/find.