Rats and Diseases
Rats are well-renowned for carrying diseases and are infamous for their lack of hygiene. This leaves people wondering what exactly do they carry? This article serves as a comprehensive guide to rats and their diseases.
Firstly, how do they transmit them? Mainly this is through waste. Rat droppings and urine can be a host of disease, and they seem to be the most difficult to control, as they can show up just about anywhere. Be careful when cleaning up droppings and use bleach to clean the area once the droppings are removed. Wear gloves and a mask while doing this, as spores from the droppings can separate and become airborne.
What diseases are there to catch? There’s quite a few, and we can explain the effects of them here, so you know exactly what you’re dealing with. Urine can’t be seen either, so bleach around a large area of where the droppings are found. Another way of catching a disease from rats, but not impossible, is through scratches and bites. This can infect you with a host of diseases, so it is best to seek medical advice if this happens.
Yes, even rats can sometimes transmit rabies. We put this first because it’s one of the most commonly heard about diseases in animals. However, this is not commonly transmitted in rats. Because rabies is passed by biting, rats rarely catch this disease, because if they’re bit, rats are small and can easily die. However, they may pick this up if they come across a dead animal with rabies, and then transmit it.
There are no current cases of this, so, this is definitely a small risk, but small doesn’t equal no risk. It’s worth knowing about this.
On the topic of zoonotic disease, the next one is called Leptospirosis (aka Weil’s disease). This is commonly known as rat fever and is transmitted through rat feces and urine. This happens when spores of the feces or the urine enter the skin through dry skin or through breathing in. This is why it’s vital to wear a mask and gloves when cleaning up waste. This disease is classified as a blood infection and can cause headaches, chills, muscle aches, and in extension, jaundice leading to kidney failure and meningitis. It is vital that after dealing with animal waste, that if you feel these symptoms, you seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Rats can eat other animal carcasses, which can pass on Tularemia (aka Rabbit fever). When rats defecate and urinate, it starts the possibility of being passed to humans. Tularemia is another zoonotic disease that attacks the skin and eyes. This can be caught in rat bites but is most commonly inhaled when cleaning waste up. This disease causes skin ulcers at the point of contact of infection (in bites). The lymph nodes closest to the ulcer will also swell, usually under the armpits or in the groin, but other strains cause lymph nodes in the neck to swell. You will also feel extreme headaches and a fever, with cold chills and tiredness. Vomiting and diarrhea are the most tell-tale signs of this disease. You must seek medical attention, as this disease is also severe.
The next disease is simply known as Rat-Bite Fever (RBF). There are two types of this, but they are localized within regions, so only one type resides in the USA, and one type in Asia. You can contract this disease by coming into contact with the rodent, or through the consumption of food contaminated by rat droppings or urine. Fever and vomiting accompany this infection, and what sets this apart from other diseases is the development of a rash on your hands and feet. This happens in ¾ of people who are infected, so if this doesn’t happen, still get some medical attention, as it’s possible you have this or another one of the diseases that rats transmit. This is a slow infection to show symptoms, so you can develop symptoms even as late as 3 weeks after the wound has healed. More seriously, if you don’t seek medical help, there can be infections or complications in the liver, lungs, heart or brain. Stay aware when handling rodents and their waste.
Lastly, and the most severe disease, is called Hantavirus. There are two strains of this, HPS (in the Americas) and HFRS (in Europe and Asia). Rodent infestations in houses are the number one cause of catching this disease. The signs that you may have this virus are extreme muscle aches, especially in large muscles like the back, hips, thighs, and even shoulders. Fevers, chills, nausea, and vomiting can also occur. 4-10 days after an initial phase of early symptoms, late symptoms will develop and can include coughing or shortness of breath. This can feel like small suffocation, as fluid slowly enters the lungs. This is meant as a recovery mechanism, from the body, but this is similar to pneumonia. This may be when it gets too late, so the second you think you’ve come into contact with rat waste, please seek immediate medical attention. You are better safe than sorry when it comes to all of these diseases.
So, if you have recently had a rat infestation, please take extreme precautions. You should wear a mask, gloves, long-sleeves, and some goggles/eye protection wear to stop any transmission. If you feel uncomfortable, you should contact professional wildlife handlers to remove your infestation and to give advice. Lastly, if you think you bear any of the symptoms from these diseases, seek medical attention, and the sooner the better.