More than two million rats live in New York’s sewers, subways and streets. According to a recently published study, after a research made on fleas, mites and lice from 133 rats, some of them can transmit bubonic plague.
Every year, around 100 New Yorkers are bitten by rats. And the plague is not the only dangerous disease that can be spread by the rodents and their pests.
Over 6.500 fleas, mites and lice were found on the 133 rats, and the bacteria they carried can cause typhus and spotted fever. Among them were 500 Oriental rat fleas, who can transmit the bubonic plague. The infection can be passed on with only one bite.
“It’s not that these parasites can infest our bodies, but they can feed on us while they seek otherrodents to infest”, said Professor matthew Frye, a reasearcher at the Cornell University.
The plague is found mostly in the American Southwest, where it infects no more than 10 people each year, being carried by squirrels, fleas or prairie dogs. The disease was extremely deadly in the Middle Ages, killing between 30 and 50 million people and gaining the sinister name “The Black Death”.
The Health Department of New York said that plague-carrying rats have never been found in the Big Apple and that a threat posed by a plague outbreak in NYC does not exist.
Almost 90 years have passed since the last outbreak of plague in the United States, which happened in Los Angeles. The disease can be easily cured now, with antibiotics, but it can still cause extreme fevers.
The researchers found out that some of the rodents carried a wide range of viruses and bacteria. Types of Bartonella were found in fleas, a bacteria which causes dangerous diseases, like trench fever. The risk of coming in contact with an infected rat in the city varies by location.
The scientists said the study is the first pest survey of this kind in New York since the 1920s.
The New York subway system is home for over 15,000 different microorganisms. Even tough most of the bacteria is harmless, some of them, roughly 12 per cent, carry diseases like dysentery or meningitis.
To keep rats away can easily be accomplished by removing food and water sources and blocking shelter.
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