Charlie Brown says in the "Peanuts" comic strip, "Rats!"

But it's no laughing matter in Prairie Township, where officials from Franklin County Public Health have been working with the township since complaints about the rodents spiked in September.

Franklin County established a "Report a Rat" hotline last year at 614-525-4762 that residents can call to report sightings.

The township has scheduled four forums in March and April on how to prevent and eliminate rats, all at the township hall, 23 Maple Drive. The dates and times are:

* 6:30 p.m. March 19 and 21

* 6:30 p.m. April 3

* 1 p.m. April 1

Officials from Franklin County Public Health updated trustees Jan. 30 about efforts to combat the problem.

"The rats infesting Prairie Township are of the Norway variety, commonly known as a brown rat or sewer rat," said Sarah Fink, an environmental health and vector-control worker with Franklin County Public Health.

They can weigh up to a pound, measure up to a foot in length and are "athletic," she said.

"It's not your typical house mouse. They can jump 3 feet in the air. They can climb up a building or a drainage pipe," Fink said.

In 2017, the county received 11 rat complaints in Prairie Township.

Last year, that number jumped to more than two per month, and this year, the county already has received four complaints, Fink said.

The township typically gets rat complaints alongside other issues such as trash problems that are handled through the township's nuisance-abatement program, said Connie Swisher, Prairie Township's zoning inspector.

Franklin County Public Health sent nearly 7,000 postcards to township households in November with information on "rat-proofing" properties.

A single pair of rats can produce up to 15,000 descendants in a single year, Fink said.

Rats spread fleas, ticks and contagious diseases and will bite other animals, including cats and dogs, she said.

"Harborage" -- providing shelter for rats -- is among the greatest challenges facing township officials, they said.

According to information from Franklin County Public Health, workers surveyed several township neighborhoods, apartment complexes and commercial areas along West Broad Street late last year.

Although a "hot spot" of rat activity was found in the Lincoln Village South area, the problem is widespread and every neighborhood in the township is "at risk" for an infestation, officials said.

"There's no single source of rats; they didn't all come from one area or one building that got torn down," Fink said.

She said rats are nocturnal animals that can chew through wood and plastic and often burrow under outdoor sheds or along fence lines.

Common sources of food and shelter include pet food, garbage bags left unsecured in containers, wood piles and abandoned cars and houses. Commercial areas with unsecured trash bins, food trash and areas of overgrown brush also encourage rats, Fink said.

In 2018, a wet spring combined with vegetation growth and other "ideal conditions" -- abundant food sources, fence lines littered with trash and standing water -- led to a population explosion, she said.

The best way to rat-proof a property, she said, is to remove food sources and shelter.

The county recommends snap-style traps designed specifically for rats -- not mice. They are the most effective and humane, Fink said. Glue traps won't work for rats this big, and poison is often ineffective, she said.

"They'll take the bait right off your trap and leave it sitting there," Fink said.

"Using poison is trickier because they don't die immediately. Anything that's going to poison them could also poison cats, dogs or other mammals."

Prairie Township has scheduled its annual spring cleanup weekends for May 2-4 and 9-11, Swisher said.

Officials are urging residents to take advantage of the opportunity to clear away debris that invites pests, such as old tires and inoperable appliances left outside.

Residents may dispose of trash and tires at the township road department, 6725 Alkire Road, for free during those weekends with proof of township residency.

For more information, visit the Franklin County Public Health website: tinyurl.com/ yb6wcxfl.

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