New York City Rats Are Carrying More Disease Than Originally Thought

Swarm of Rats
(Photo : Getty Images/John Downer)

Rats, also commonly called "city kitties," are often seen scurrying around the streets of New York City. New research has found exactly how disgusting these furry rodents are. 

In New York City rats are seen in the subway, garbage cans and streets. ABC News reported that researchers are taking a closer look at how these rodents are affecting the health of the human population. 

Researchers tested rats in Manhattan and catalogued the bacteria and viruses they carry for the first time. USA Today reported the researchers found what many of us were thinking: Rats are disease-carrying specimens. 

Dr. Ian Lipkin from Columbia University says that the idea of studying the effects of rats on public health came after the terrorist attacks in September 2001. Lipkin and his colleagues wanted to be aware of the risks surrounding biological warfare. 

Researchers from Columbia University collected 133 rats over a span of a year. They found that the rats were carrying many viruses and disease, including food-borne illnesses as well as fever-inducing illnesses.

The most alarming find was a pathogen that had never been seen before. Not only was the virus new to New York, but it was also new to science. 

Lipkin said the researchers discovered 18 unknown viruses, including two viruses that appeared to be similar to the human hepatitis virus.

Researchers wrote, "We also identified a wide range of known and novel viruses from groups that contain important human pathogens, including sapoviruses, cardioviruses, kobuviruses, parechoviruses, rotaviruses, and hepaciviruses. The two novel hepaciviruses discovered in this study replicate in the liver of Norway rats and may have utility in establishing a small animal model of human hepatitis C virus infection."

Notes from researchers said that attention has been given to studying animals that carry infectious disease. However, not enough research has been conducted on commensal animals, like rats, even though they populate urban areas. 

"Rats are sentinels for human disease," Lipkin said. "They're all over the city; uptown, downtown, underground. Everywhere they go, they collect microbes and amplify them. And because these animals live close to people, there is ample opportunity for exchange."

Study author Cadhla Firth said there are multiple ways people can be infected by rats. Rodents often leave behind large amounts of saliva, urine and feces. Pets are also able to come into contact with rats and transfer disease to their owners. 

"New Yorkers are constantly exposed to rats and the pathogens they carry, perhaps more than any other animal," said Firth. "Despite this, we know very little about the impact they have on human health."



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