Think you have a rodent problem, Tampa Bay? Here’s what to do.

How do I know if I have a rodent problem?

Listen for scratching behind walls or on the ceiling. Look for rat or rat droppings in the attic or crawl space.

Rooftop rats are common here and are especially active when citrus trees are offering fresh fruit, according to the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

They slip into buildings through small cracks and holes. Roof rats grow to about a foot long and weigh less than a pound.

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How do I stop the injury?

The best way: Don’t let rats or mice enter your home in the first place.

The US Environmental Protection Agency says prevention must come before poison. Clean up easy dirt such as loose litter and standing water. Rats may enter in search of a meal or drink.

Put the lids in the trash cans. Fill cracks and holes in your walls. Pest control experts often recommend sealing off all possible entrances to the home as part of the treatment. It can cost hundreds of dollars.

To stand up to rats’ sharp teeth, the University of Florida encourages the use of hard materials like concrete and sheet metal for repairs.

If rats are already indoors, the EPA suggests a phased approach with more deadly rodenticides being used as a last resort. Residents can place traps near areas where they have seen or heard rats. The University of Florida recommends using raisins, grapes, or nuts as bait and leaving the traps for several days.

In some areas, such as farms, it is difficult to completely isolate rats from food and shelter, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency says rodenticides may work better in such scenarios.

If I have to use poisons, how do I do so safely?

Always read the instructions. Labels contain information about who should use rodenticides and when, where and how they should be used. It is against the law to break the rules of the rat poison label.

Second-generation anticoagulants, which cause animals to bleed to death, are among the most powerful anticoagulants. They include: Brodifacoum, Bromadiolone, Difenacum and Diethylone.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that average homeowners generally shouldn’t use these chemicals on their own.

Another class of rodenticides, first generation anticoagulants, are slightly less effective but still dangerous. They include: warfarin, chlorophacinone, and divacinone.

According to the National Pesticide Information Center, other types of rat poison include:

  • bromethane, which “stops cells in the central nervous system from producing energy”
  • Cholecalciferol, which causes animals to have excess calcium in their blood
  • Zinc phosphide, which turns into a toxic gas when mixed with stomach acid

University of Florida experts recommend keeping rodenticides out of the reach of children and pets.

Around homes, rodenticides should be placed inside bait stations to reduce the possibility of other animals (besides rats and mice) getting in.

What happens when people are exposed to rodenticides?

Anticoagulants may cause a person to bleed from the nose, gums, or skin, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. Meanwhile, bromethane can “alter mental status”; Cholecalciferol might make people urinate excessively and feel very thirsty; Zinc phosphide can cause vomiting, coughing, chills, or shortness of breath.

Last year, more than 250 people in Florida were exposed to rodenticides, which means they swallowed, inhaled, or touched toxins, according to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Many of these cases have brought minor consequences at worst, said Alexandra Funk, managing director of the Florida-Tampa Poison Information Center. But she said four people died when they smoked “spice,” an alternative to synthetic marijuana, mixed with rat poison.

If someone has been exposed to a rodenticide, call the Florida-Tampa Poison Information Center at 800-222-1222.

What about pets?

Anticoagulants may cause unusual bleeding, weakness and breathing problems in animals, according to the National Pesticide Information Center. It may take days for symptoms to appear. An animal that eats bromethane can become sensitive to light or noise and experience seizures or muscle twitches. Cholecalciferol may cause animals to vomit, have diarrhea, lose their appetite, or appear depressed. Zinc phosphide can induce vomiting and make animals pacing, convulsing, or appearing anxious and weak.

Nearly 1 in 10 poison control calls to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals involved rodenticides last year, according to a spokesperson.

If your pet has eaten rat poison, contact your veterinarian. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals hotline can be reached at 888-426-4435. Another option is the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. Both hotlines may charge a fee.

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