South African rodent expert Jan van Niekerk says attacks on humans by rats are becoming worse.
Police in Durban are conducting an inquest into the death of a four-month-old baby after a bite by a rat the baby's parents claim was "the size of a cat".
Van Niekerk said while he is personally not aware of deaths related to rat bites, during the last few months there has been an increase in rat bites involving infants in informal settlements throughout the country.
Recently, an infant from Alexandra was "eaten" by a pack of rats and was completely disfigured on the face, and will have to undergo intensive plastic and reconstruction surgery, he said.
"In all instances, it seems that the Rattus norvegicus, commonly referred to as the brown rat, has been the culprit."
Sleeping adults and infants are attacked mostly in the early hours of the morning.
Many of the bites are only exploratory and are applied to the feet, hands and face.
He said there have been confirmed cases of a pack of rats attacking a baby and devouring flesh from the nose, forehead, forearm, hand and fingers.
He said the brown rat is known to thrive in areas that lack proper infrastructure, sanitation and waste disposal outlets.
"The brown rat thrives on waste food that is thrown outside the shacks and can grow up to 7kg," he said.
PROTECT YOUR CHILD FROM RAT BITES:
l Keep your home clean and tidy.
l Keep all food closed or covered.
l Keep the area near your home free of rubbish.
l Close all possible entrances (holes) where the rats may enter the room or house.
l Always ensure that the baby's bed is high enough (at least 50cm) from the ground so that rats cannot reach the child.
l Always place household waste in closed containers or bins.
l Check for rat droppings and signs of gnawing.
l In the event of the presence of rats in your home, contact the environmental health department closest to you.