Rats are on the rampage in Salt Lake County.

The Salt Lake City-County Health Department has received hundreds of complaints of rat infestation from citizens living in every part of the county and its municipalities - including the most affluent of neighborhoods where mature, dense landscaping provides harborage."For every complaint received, dozens of neighboring properties are likely also to have similar problems, though not to the same extent," said Patti Fricks, director of the department's Bureau of Environmental Sanitation and Safety. "It's becoming a serious matter of concern."

But Fricks said there are a lot of things residents can do to reduce the problem.

Get rid of firewood, building materials, junk, trash or rubbish that could be harboring a family of rats. Potentially, a single female rat can produce up to 80 youngsters per year.

The garbage container without a lid, the dog food dish that is often full, any animal or poultry feed not stored in rodent-proof containers with tight lids are also excellent food sources for rats, Fricks said. Health department inspectors often find a rat nest underneath dog houses that are filled with dry dog food.

"Having any of these conditions in the immediate proximity of your house only invites unwelcome house guests," Fricks stressed.

Because of potential liability problems, the health department doesn't bait (lace poison on private property). Fricks said the responsibility of abating rodent populations rests with the public, especially with the property owners affected.

The department has issued some guidelines to help Salt Lakers rid their property of rodents:

- Remove all junk, trash and other solid wastes from the property and properly dispose of it at a landfill.

- Store firewood, building materials and similar items at least 18 inches off the ground, and away from any building or structure.

- Store garbage and animal feed in tight, rodent-proof containers.

- Feed dogs and other animals smaller quantities of food that can be eaten completely within a reasonable amount of time, but feed more often as needed by the pet or animal.

- Locate nests, burrows and harborage areas and trap or bait the rats with a rodenticide.

Fricks said glue boards, which stick the rat to the surface, are available where baits are sold. When using Warfarin, the active ingredient in most baits, a supply must remain present until eradication is complete.

The specialist warned that procedures must be done in strategic locations - areas where rats will likely come in contact with the bait, but children and pets won't.

"Each of these measures has advantages and drawbacks, but when used together, control is usually more certain and complete," she said. "If your best efforts do not eradicate the rats or mice, don't hesitate to call a reputable pest control operator who is licensed to do pest control for rodents."

Even if you can live with the rats, don't.

Fricks advised that several health department regulations have been developed to control the rat or rodent populations - and will be enforced. (ee related story on B1.)

For more information, call the Salt Lake City-County Health Department, 534-4526. Questions can also be answered by employees at Utah State University Extension Service, the State Department of Agriculture, or a pest control company.