Rats With Bubonic Plague-Bearing Fleas In North Upland?

Lackadaisical trash pick-up in neighborhoods of northern Upland has resulted in the proliferation of rats, which are reportedly beset with bubonic plague-bearing fleas.
City officials are loath to acknowledge the depth of the rat problem where it exists within certain city quarters because of the city’s image as a prestigious bedroom community, the northern half of which is considered to be one of San Bernardino County’s four most affluent areas.
At the basis of the rapidly deepening morass is the inconsistency on the part of the city’s franchised trash hauler to engage in uniform refuse removal on a timely basis throughout the 15.62-square mile, 78,562-population city. Burrtec Industries has held the city’s trash-hauling franchise since 2001 under a ten-year automatic rollover arrangement. While the company has provided and continues to provide adequate service to keep most of its customers and the city’s decision-makers in the form of the city council satisfied enough to have maintained that citywide franchise contract overall for more than two decades, possibly because of underperformance by a handful of its trash truck operators, the garbagemen who collect the city’s trash, recyclables and greenwaste on a weekly basis, at certain points within the city garbage has remained in place for weeks and on occasion months at a time.
Rather inexplicably, the locations where this neglect has been most common is on the city’s north side, in neighborhoods where the average household or individual annual income dwarfs that of the more modest neighborhoods on the southern end of the city.
Exacerbating the problem are triple factors that include the discretion Burrtec has given its drivers/garbagemen as to how they are to carry out their assignments, the limited direct contact city residents were permitted with the company’s mid-level employees/supervisors and the incorporation of alleyways into the layout of Upland’s oldest neighborhoods. Burrtec’s drivers exercise autonomy as to whether they can retireve and dispose of all of the trash along their daily routes which are repeated on a weekly basis or whether they can, because of time constraints, leave trash in place to be picked up the following week or even at a later date. For more than 20 years, the city rather than the company carried out the billing and customer service function relating to trash hauling in Upland, a circumstance which has recently changed amid much confusion and which has not yet given residents a clear pathway to communicate with Burrtec corporate officers to have them override the refusal of some drivers/garbage men to haul away trash in the city’s most problematic areas. Upland, which is the fifth oldest of San Bernardino County’s 24 municipalities, having come into existence as an incorporated entity in the first decade of the Twentieth Century in 1906, for much of its existence included alleys running behind the city’s rows of homes, eliminating, in many cases, the need for driveways or curb cuts in front of the homes. Thus, many though not all homes in Upland were built with their garages accessed from the alleys, which provided the added benefit of enhancing visible aesthetics by allowing the homeowners to store garbage cans at the back of the property, making the fronts of those homes more presentable. This further provided for having trash removal to take place, for the most part, in the alleyways. This represented, under normal conditions, another benefit of improving sanitation by keeping trash in an area removed from the homes’ living quarters.
In those cases where trash pick-up has been neglected for weeks on end, however, that lack of visibility has resulted in creating areas out of sight and out of mind where the lack of hygienics has caused the circumstance involving vermin to fester.
In one case about which the Sentinel has a full range of detail, a house in Upland within a route where the average household income stands at $100,970 and the average home price is $1,144,487.48 has an alley feature from which it and two adjacent residential properties are provided with garage access and an area at the back of those properties where their trash, recycling and greenwaste bins are staged on the normal pick-up day of Wednesday. On 32 of the 78 pick-up days since the beginning of January 2023, Burrtec has failed to pick up the garbage at that address. The recycling and greenwaste service at that address has been far more consistent, though not entirely so. The trash generated at that address has been relatively modest, running, on average, to roughly a half of a bin or thereabouts per week. On occasion, trash pick-up at that address was neglected for more than two weeks. This week, after Burrtec had failed for the fourth week to collect the trash at that address, the residents placed in the alleyway on Wednesday June 26 the full standard black trash bin supplied by Burrtec and another full commercially-purchased similarly sized “Toter” brand bin with a dark olive green body and black lid. The Burrtec driver picked up neither bin. Trash pick-up at that residence had not taken place at all in June 2024.
The Sentinel’s efforts to determine why the trash from address was not being picked up were unsuccessful. The Sentinel phoned City Hall today to inquire about the sanitation issues relating to the lack of trash pick-up at various locations in the city, including the manifestation of a now-persistant rat population in the city’s alleyways. There were no personnel available to field the call at City Hall.
Rats, believed to be the Norway variety, have been observed in multiple multiple locations within north Upland’s alley system. A dead rat was collected, closely photographed, placed in a sealed plastic container and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Photos appeared to show fleas similar in appearance to Xenopsylla cheopis, the Oriental rat flea on the rat.
Bubonic plague is mainly spread by infected fleas from small animals, most notably rats. Bubonic plague, however, is not the only form of plague. The other two types of plague, likewise conveyed to humans through fleas are septicemic plague and pneumonic plague.
The first recorded Bubonic pandemic, refereed to as the Plague of Justinian, lasted from 541 AD to 549 AD, killing at least 15 million people. Recurrences of the outbreak lasted nearly 200 years, until the approximate middle of the Eighth Century, killing 35 million to 50 million people. It impacted both the Sasanian Empire and the rival Eastern Roman Empire, also know as the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Emperor, Justinian I was infected, but survived. As a consequence of that plague, Justinian I built multiple hospitals for the poor as well as public baths.
The second bubonic pandemic came during the late Middle Ages, originating in Asia in the 1330s and lasting in potency in Europe for the six years between 1346 to 1352, known variously as the Black Death, the Great Dying or the Great Pestilence, it carried with it a mortality rates of somewhere between 70 percent to 80 percent of those infected, killing an estimated 50 million in Europe alone.
The third plague initiated in the mid-nineteenth century, most likely in Yunnan Province in China, and spread through port cities throughout the world, lasting into the Twentieth Centrury, with outbreaks in Chinatown in San Francisco from 1900 to 1904, Oakland and the East Bay from 1907 to 1909, with a last major outbreak in Los Angeles in 1924.
That the ground is being laid for an outbreak locally, in a place such as Upland, is disturbing to some people.
The circumstance does represent some difficulty for local officials whose oversight of the City of Upland and the entity charged with local vector control, the West Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District, give them the responsibility of maintaining minimal standards with regard to refuse handling and reducing or eliminating the presence of rats and other health threats in Upland and the authority to do something about it.
Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, the president of the board of trustees for the West Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District said, “I have zero knowledge of” the reports relating to the bubonic plague bearing rats in Upland. Upland Councilman Carlos Garcia, who is a member of the board of trustees for the West Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District and might be better situated to get a rundown of what the circumstances are in Upland, was unavailable through his office at City Hall this week. Similarly, Upland City Councilman James Breitling, who has previously been willing to acknowledge a serious problem with cockroaches in the Upland sewer and stormwater drainage systems, was unavailable at City Hall yesterday and early today.
Brian Reisinger, the West Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District’s community outreach coordinator, said he had checked the district’s files going back to 2018 and could find no confirmed documentation or indication of the presence of rats in Upland.
“I don’t see anything for Upland at all,” Reisinger said.
Reisinger did say that locally, within the bailiwick for the West Valley Mosquito & Vector Control District, which is headquartered in Ontario and has jurisdiction extending to cover Chino Hills, Chino, Ontario, Montclair, Upland and Rancho Cucamonga, the recurrent problem with rodents extends to “roof rats, Norway rats and house mice.” He said that Norway rats are distinguished from most other types of rats by their size. “They’re a little bit larger, typically with heavier bodies,” he said.
Going back 20, 30, 40 and even 50 years, Ontario, particularly north Ontario, had a major issue with rats, both Norway rats and roof rats. A huge colony of rats had established itself in the basement and underground facilities beneath Chaffey High School. In the residential neighborhood around Chaffey High, on both sides of Euclid Avenue, roof rats predominated.
Reflective of the current situation in Upland, Ontario’s vector problem was most pronounced in that section of the city considered to be the haven for its most affluent residents. Ontario, San Bernardino County’s fourth city to incorporate, incorporated alleyways into its original layout, as did San Bernardino, the county’s oldest city, along with Upland, which was founded by the Chaffey Brothers, who were responsible for the creation of the Ontario community. Montclair, the county’s 11th oldest city, initially sought to emulate both of its neighbors to the immediate east by the placement of alleys into both its commercial and residential sections.
According to Reisinger, alleys present an opportunity for rat populations to concentrate, but only if they are poorly maintained or garbage and the like is allowed to accumulate there.
“Rat activity will heighten, or deepen, as you prefer to think of it, if areas such as an alleyway is unkempt,” Reisinger said. “They are always looking for food, water and cover. They seek out a place where they feel safe. If an alley has a lot of trash and is not maintained, it can become a haven for rats.”
While they are generally relatively sedentary, remaining in an establish spot as long as they are undisturbed, rats can be mobile. Infamously, Ontario’s roof rats migrated from one nesting spot to another within the attics of homes by manifesting impressive balance in traversing the electrical or telephone wires that ran through the north Ontario neighborhoods.
While some roof rats did migrate into Upland, there numbers were limited, as the 10 Freeway served as a daunting obstruction. Similarly, the freeway discouraged Ontario’s Norway rats from moving freely into Upland, though that was not universally true, as Norway rats were adapt at finding underground routes such as storm drains and channels to transit from one spot to another and would, additionally, often move on the ground at night under the cover of darkness.
“The freeway can create a barrier, north to south and south to north, for a lot of different wildlife,” Reisinger said. “There are likely other avenues they might be able to use to get through safely. They trek around, wandering to territory that they can inhabit.”
Reisinger, while saying, “As far as I know, we have no calls with regard to rodents lately in Upland,” added that if problems persist to the point where his agency is contacted, “We will go out and do a surveillance run and check for all the signs of rodents. I can tell you that based on what has been reported to us, I didn’t see anything relating to rats in Upland.”
The California Department of Public Health’s website, though mentioning rats and rat flea-borne illnesses, did not specifically catalog bubonic plague, but did reference “flea-borne typhus,” which is described as “a bacterial disease that can spread from some animals to humans by fleas and make people sick. In California, typhus is considered endemic (always present) in Southern California, including Los Angeles and Orange counties. Cases are sometimes reported from other parts of California.”
The Sentinel at press time is following through to see what results are returned from the private lab analysis of the flea-infested rat found in Upland.

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