Rats have made a reputation of themselves as filthy creatures that live in sewers and other dirty places. They also have impressive fecundity, which is why they seem to be everywhere! If you spot this pest in or around your property, you need to be worried.
Not only do they burrow into your food and leave droppings in your home, but they are also known to carry many different diseases. Here’s everything you need to know about what diseases do rats carry, so you can be better informed and keep your home safe and healthy.
Do Rats Really Spread Disease and Illness?
Yes, they do.
Rats are a major nuisance as they can create a very unhygienic space and are a health hazard. They are known to carry and spread diseases and illnesses through their feces, saliva, and urine.
And the worst thing about these rodents is that you can become ill directly or indirectly from their droppings.
Historically, rats have been associated with the spread of some of the world’s deadliest diseases. For example, the bubonic plague, also called the Black Death, killed almost a third of Asia’s population alone!
What Diseases Do Rats Carry?
Today, with scientific and medical progress, rats do not pose as much of a threat as they used. It’s just that their reputation precedes them as disgusting and vicious creatures who eat anything and everything in their paths.
However, they are still carriers of some major diseases, some of which are explored below.
This is a bacterial disease resulting from the Leptospira bacteria that can affect both humans and animals. It is also called Weil’s disease and is commonly carried by animals, such as cattle and rats.
Usually, you’d catch it by being exposed or in contact with cattle or rat urine through contaminated fresh water. For example, if you wade through a flooded area and the water is polluted with the urine of these animals, the bacteria can get to you through open wounds on your legs and feet.
If infected with Leptospirosis, the symptoms can show up in three days to three weeks from the time of infection. Signs like the flu can vary in the initial phase, combined with headaches, fever, muscle pains, chills, and vomiting.
When the severity of the bacteria is high, you can experience jaundice, diarrhea, and even kidney and liver failure, and if left untreated, it can lead to death.
#2. Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome
The cotton rat, the white-footed mouse, and the deer mouse are the primary carriers of the viral Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome. It can be spread if you inhale dust contaminated with the rat’s urine or droppings, if you come in direct contact with rat urine or feces, or if a rat bites you. This rare disease has a high fatality rate without proper medical intervention.
The initial symptoms of Hantavirus are flu-like, including body pains and fatigue, and can escalate to respiratory issues like difficulty breathing. There is no specific incubation time for this disease, but the symptoms can start to exhibit one to eight weeks after exposure to the rats’ droppings, saliva, or urine.
#3. Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCMV)
Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus (LCMV) is a viral infectious disease spread by the common house rat through its urine, feces, and saliva. This disease can present as meningitis, inflammation of areas surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), the brain itself being inflamed (encephalitis), or both.
The transmission of LCMV can also happen if the rat’s urine, feces, and saliva come in direct contact with you through broken skin, the mouth, or the eyes. On the onset, you may not experience any symptoms, but health indicators can present themselves 8-13 days after infection.
The first phase of this disease exhibits flu-like symptoms with a lack of appetite, vomiting, and nausea. The second phase is usually accompanied by common symptoms of meningitis and encephalitis. If medical intervention doesn’t happen in time, LCMV can lead to acute hydrocephalus or an amplified fluid accumulation on the brain that would require surgical shunting.
You can contract salmonellosis if you consume food or water tainted by rat feces or urine. Salmonella infection is one of the most common bacterial infections that target the intestinal tract. You may not exhibit any symptoms if you have a strong immune system. But the most common indicators include diarrhea, stomach cramps, and even fever 8-72 hours after ingestion.
With this disease, however, your body has its way of coping and flushing out the bacteria from your intestines. Recovery time is a matter of days, even without taking any medications, but increased water intake is recommended.
#5. Rat Bite Fever
Rat bite fever is transmitted when you are bitten by an infected rodent or have handled a rat. This bacteria lives inside the rat’s mouth, so transmission is easy and fast.
The symptoms of rat bite fever depend on the type of fever you have — streptobacillary rat bite fever or spirillary rat bite fever. The symptoms shared by these two kinds are fever and rashes.
However, spirillary rat bite fever is more severe as it causes your lymph nodes to be inflamed. Immediate intervention through antibiotics is the most effective way of treating rat bite fever.
Tularemia usually occurs in rural areas where animals and humans live together. It can survive in dead animals for several weeks in soil and water.
This rare but infectious disease is caused by the bacteria Francisella Tularensis, which usually attacks your eyes, lymph nodes, lungs, and skin. You can get this infection through insect bites, specifically from ticks that have attached themselves first to animals like rats, birds, and rabbits. When these insects bite you, the bacteria is transferred accordingly. You can also get infected if a rat has already bitten you.
Tularemia symptoms will often show three to five days after being infected, but sometimes, the symptoms can hold out for up to 14 days. The usual indicators are chills, fever, headache, ulcer on the bitten skin, and fatigue.
#7. Other Diseases
The CDC has listed nearly 30 diseases that are caused by rats, and even this list is not exhaustive. Here are some other diseases that rats can spread:
• Hemorrhagic Fever with Renal Syndrome
• Lassa Fever
• Lujo Hemorrhagic Fever
• Omsk Hemorrhagic Fever
• South American Arenaviruses
• Sylvatic Typhus
• Colorado tick fever
• Cutaneous leishmaniasis
• Eastern equine encephalitis
• Flea-borne (Murine) Typhus
• Hymenolepis diminuta
• La Crosse virus
• Moniliformis moniliformis
• Powassan virus
• Scrub typhus
• Tick-borne Relapsing Fever
• West Nile virus