Exterminators began sweeping a Kansas City neighborhood infested with rats after one of the rodents crawled into a baby's crib and severely disfigured the girl's face.
Authorities said the girl's parents put her in a crib next to their bed early Sunday and awoke a few hours later, when a heart and breathing monitor alarm went off. The 4-week-old baby, which had been born prematurely, was lying in a pool of blood with her nose and part of her upper lip chewed off.
The parents found rat feces in the crib. Police believe milk or formula that had leaked onto the baby attracted the rodent.
No one else in the home was bitten, police said.
Michael Swoyer, who supervises Kansas City's rat-control program, said exterminators spent Monday at the family's house, several occupied homes nearby, vacant houses and in the surrounding sewer system.
"We don't want this to ever happen again," Swoyer said. "We're all over the neighborhood now."
Swoyer said it was the first time in several years of working in rodent control that he had heard of a rat attacking a human, but he said less severe cases may have happened and were not reported.
The city funded a rat-control unit in the late 1990s, but budget cuts closed it for about three years, Swoyer said. It reopened last May.
Swoyer said rats can be difficult to exterminate because they are cautious of new things in their environment. He said the rodents have even been known to force weaker members of their colonies to eat new food "to see if they die."
Swoyer said rats are attracted to food, water and shelter. He encouraged residents to pick up trash, keep a tight lid on food and cut down tall weeds that can serve as habitat.
"Get rid of one of those things, and the rats will leave," he said.