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Just when you thought you knew everything there were to know about rats and other rodents, more frightening news becomes available. We are learning more and more about them, not only how they work and communicate with each other, but also the diseases that they can carry around with them. There are many of them, making the creature one of the most dangerous ones on our planet. (Who could forget the Black Death?)
Believe it or not, there are a wide number of rodent-borne diseases that could come hand-in-hand with your furry little critters. These 14 are some of the more familiar ones that you could come into contact with:
Bartonellosis (Trench Fever)
Streptobacillary and Spirillary Rat Bite Fever
Infecting almost every rodent as well as a few species of snake, there are new fewer than eight different strains of this virus that can directly affect humans.
The virus Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) causes Lymphocytic choriomeningitis.
The Junin virus causes Argentine hemorrhagic fever.
The Machupo virus causes Bolivian hemorrhagic fever.
The Lassa virus causes Lassa fever.
The Guanarito virus causes Venezuelan hemorrhagic fever, and then you have Lujo, Chapare, and Sabia, which cause Lujo hemorrhagic fever, Chapare hemorrhagic fever, and Brazilian hemorrhagic fever respectably. The newest of these viruses is the Lujo virus, first discovered in 2008, and just goes to show that everything evolves - including rats and the diseases they spread with them.
Thankfully, many of these diseases are not found in the United States, but that's not to say that they won't make their way over here, or that a new strain of Arenavirus won't be found.
Also known as Trench Fever, several strains of Bartonellosis have been found in rats originating from Australia and some parts of Europe, including France. The bacteria-borne disease is usually seen in cattle, horses, deer, etc., but with more and more strains being identified, some of which can affect humans, rats are fast becoming linking with more and more of these otherwise unknown conditions.
A super unpleasant disease which can actually lead to Hepatitis, two parasites are responsible for it, usually found in the feces and urine of animals who are already infected. Monkeys, dogs (such as prairie dogs), and rodents are the common carriers of the parasite, which turns into a woman within a human host. Thankfully, outbreaks of the condition are rare and usually confined to Thailand and the Philippines, as well as Middle Eastern and Asian countries, and some places in Columbia.
Another parasite, this one a tapeworm, Echinococcosis is quite rare in humans. There are several strains, just as there are with other rodent-borne diseases, some of which can affect pets and cattle. Alveolar echinococcosis (AE) is the one you'll need to worry about with rats, and it's a disease that is both rare and usually without too serious symptoms. If the parasite doesn't pass, however, the disease can be fatal. Tumors can grow that aren't cancerous, but are parasitic, and will most certainly need surgical treatment.
Roof rats, Norway rats, and house mice are not known carriers or transmitters of Hantavirus, but other rats and mice are, including cotton and rice rats, alongside the white-footed mouse and deer mouse. As with other diseases, there are several strains, all of which will come with their unique, individual set of symptoms, and some people will have absolutely no effects or symptoms whatsoever, with other cases proving fatal following kidney failure.
All of these diseases are associated with the feces of rodents. Many of us already know about dangers like salmonella and tularemia, but when you delve deeper into the world of rats, you'll soon start to discover that they are responsible for so much more than a bit of an upset stomach and some wood-chewing.
This disease is commonly found where pest wild animals are, and is spread around in the urine and feces of rats. Just like the Hantavirus, Leptospirosis can come with no symptoms at all, or it can come alongside life-threatening effects that include a rash, flu-like symptoms, and even going on to cause meningitis.
Streptobacillary and Spirillary Rat Bite Fever
The name gives the game away - Rat bite fever is caused by a rat bite in most cases, but that's not the only way in which this bacteria is passed along. In fact, there are two types of bacteria, and each of the two comes with its own set of symptoms.
Streptobacillary Rat Bite Fever usually takes about a week to materialize, and comes in the form of rashes and joint pain, muscle pains and headaches, a fever, other flu-like symptoms, and vomiting.
Spirillary Rat Bite Fever, on the other hand, can take a little longer to show, and can form ulcers alongside affecting the Lymph nodes. This one also seems to have more sore throat/flu-like symptoms at a higher severity too.
Also known as rat tapeworm, both humans and rats can be affected by the parasite. The tapeworm isn't commonly found in the United States, but there have been cases, alongside reports of outbreaks in Australia, and some places in Europe - Italy and Spain. This tends to be a bigger problem in more tropical places - Indonesia, Jamaica, Thailand and Malaysia, etc.
Also known as the typical "upset stomach", Salmonellosis can actually be deadly when it affects the elderly, very young children, and also those who are already suffering with existing conditions, particularly conditions that affect the digestive system.
Who could forget about the plague, or Black Death? Not actually a byproduct of the rats themselves, fleas that were on rats were the main culprit spreading this disease, but they did a very good job of it. The disease wiped out millions of people during the Middle Ages, and it's still not a disease we're not entirely rid of today. Although not commonly spread around by the feces and urine of rats, it is still a very big risk and has the potential to pop back up again at any moment. This is more so the case in developing countries.
This is another parasite, but not just one that affects developing countries; Toxoplasmosis has been shown to be one of the most common parasites across the world, even in countries that are considered developed, rather than developing. It can also affect pretty much every animal that you'll find around you - warm-blooded mammals.
This disease has actually been closely linked to schizophrenia in rodents, especially mice. Mice that are infected with the parasite have no fear of cats, and it is believed that the parasite itself needs the cat in order to reproduce, so encourages the mouse to go near it, rather than running away from it.
The effects are nowhere near quite that mind-controlling in humans, but it is still a disease that comes with deadly warnings.
Rats are almost solely responsible for keeping this disease well and truly alive, and one that starts with the consumption of larvae/eggs of the roundworm. We once believed there to be just a few strain, but more and more are being recognized with each year that passes. Alongside rats, pigs, bears, birds, and various European carnivores are big carriers.
An outbreak of this disease could spell bad news for the likes of rats and mice, hares and rabbits, and various other critters, many of which you'll find in your own back yard or just a little beyond.
There are various ways that people can contract this potentially deadly bacteria from infected animals, including direct contact, bites from insects such as deer fly or ticks, drinking water that has been contaminated with the bacteria, and breathing in contaminated ground dust or dirt that has dried and become dust.
If you ignore this disease or do not seek treatment for it, it can be a life-threatening one. Medication usually treats it in a short time frame, however, providing there are no long-lasting effects, and antibiotics are usually first prescribed.
This is the serious form of Leptospirosis, when the symptoms and bacteria have gone on to become more severe, and to need a more aggressive form of treatment.
Go back to the Rat Removal page, or learn tips to do it yourself with my How to Get Rid of Rats guide.