How Do Rats Transmit Diseases to People?

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Rats can transmit diseases to humans in a number of ways, and some of them are considerably more serious than a touch of salmonellosis, also known as the good ol' familiar tummy bug.

Direct contact with the rat could result in a number of diseases being passed from rodent to human, including Rat Bite Fever. Bites or scratches could pass the bacterial infection along, although mucus secretions are a common culprit, as is urine that the rat leaves sprayed around as it runs around. The bacteria could be passed from a rat's paws to a glass of water very easily - the rat doesn't know NOT to stand in its own urine and you can't see the bacteria present on the glass. Just one touch could be all it takes.

Speaking of urine and feces; they are responsible for the spread of a wide range of diseases, Rat Bite Fever being just one of them. Leptospirosis is another disease, which can be both undetectable and life-threatening depending on the severity. One person can have the bacterial infection and pass through it with very few or no symptoms at all, whereas another person will require urgent treatment before it has the chance to cause respiratory problems or distress, irreparable damage to the kidneys, spinal cord or brain damage, meningitis, and even complete failure of the liver or other vital organs. The outcome for the worst of cases could be death.

Hantavirus is another nasty disease often spread around by rodents, although only certain species of rodents in certain areas will be a cause for concern. The Black Creek Canal virus, also known as BCCV, is carried and transmitted by a species of rat called the cotton rat, and this is one mostly found in South and Central America, although some South-Easterly states of the USA have cotton rat populations and, therefore, a risk of Hantavirus - BCCV.

Another rat that spreads a different strain of Hantavirus, again, found in South-Easterly states, is a species called the rice rat. Also found in many parts of the Central Americas, the specific strain of Hantavirus with this offender is Bayou virus, also known as BAYV.

Rats in homes have the potential to cause a condition called HPS - Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome. Spread through fluids such as urine, saliva, feces, and mucus secretions, the virus can also be airborne through tiny particles, with symptoms showing anywhere from one week after initial contact and infection, to over two or three months later.

The symptoms of HPS - and almost every other rodent-borne disease - will often appear generic, vague, and almost like you simply caught a cold in the earlier stages. This is what makes rodent-borne disease and other zoonotic conditions especially difficult to treat, especially if you were not aware that you had a rat infestation in the first place. Muscle aches, a headache, temperature and fevers, chills, joint pain - They're all pretty similar to a cold or the flu and it is only when the symptoms haven't gotten better with regular cold and flu treatment that most people would seek medical attention. If that's a few weeks, the disease will have time to do a fair bit of damage, some of which can be irreparable.

Having rats in your home is very dangerous. Ignoring the very clear signs could be a foolish mistake, especially if you have other people living in the building with you - you are putting their health at risk too.

Go back to the Rat Removal page, or learn tips to do it yourself with my How to Get Rid of Rats guide.

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