It’s a legitimate question, though I asked it on my Facebook wall (right) as a black humor distraction from all of the unfortunate news from the East Coast as hurricane/tropical storm/storm system Sandy has resulted in unprecedented flooding in New York City, where I lived for many years before moving back to NC.

My second thought, after visualizing the Manhattan rats traveling uptown to escape the flood (and, apparently, phone banking for Mittens) —  they will have a feast on all of the food trash strewn everywhere. I haven’t heard when the city will resume garbage pick up.

I recall that when I lived there in the 70s sanitation pickup stopped (briefly; perhaps it was a strike), rats were boldly feeding off of the garbage in broad daylight from restaurant trash piled up on the sidewalk that wasn’t picked up.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one thinking about the swimming, plentiful, resourceful, gross 8-million-plus rodents that live among New Yorkers. From HuffPo, the very real danger they pose in the wake of the storm, Rick Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Milbrook, N.Y.:

“Rats are incredibly good swimmers,” said Ostfeld. “And they can climb.”

In other words, Sandy is unlikely to knock off the resilient rodents, but rather displace them.

According to Ostfeld, this could result in increased risk of infectious diseases carried by urban rats, including leptospirosis, hantavirus, typhus, salmonella, and even the plague.

“One of things we know can exacerbate disease is massive dispersal,” he added. “Rats are highly social individuals and live in a fairly stable social structure. If this storm disturbs that, rats could start infesting areas they never did before.”

And it’s not only the bite of a rat than can transmit disease. Rodent feces and urine can spread hantavirus, for example. Still, Ostfeld suggested that the huge volume of water Sandy is expected to bring should dilute the pathogens and lessen risks to public health.

People, stay safe, and hope your city officials have thought about this post-storm issue. It’s a serious health issue, particularly for the homeless, who will not have sufficient refuge from these vermin if they are on the streets much of the time.

Photo: submissions to the Transit Workers Union Local 100′s Rat Free Subways Project via Gothamist.