NYC Rats Are Even More Disgusting Than We Thought

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funny grey rat closeup on white background
Photo: Oleg Kozlov

Everyone knows New York City rodents are vile creatures. And yet we’ve probably been underestimating the extent of it: A new study tested 133 Manhattan rats for viruses and bacteria, and even experts are calling the results “shocking and surprising.”

From Dr. Ian Lipkin and his team’s terrifyingly titled “Detection of Zoonotic Pathogens and Characterization of Novel Viruses Carried by Commensal Rattus norvegicus in New York City,” published today in the journal mBio:

We found that these rats are infected with bacterial pathogens known to cause acute or mild gastroenteritis in people, including atypical enteropathogenic Escherichia coli, Clostridium difficile, and Salmonella enterica, as well as infectious agents that have been associated with undifferentiated febrile illnesses, including Bartonella spp., Streptobacillus moniliformis, Leptospira interrogans, and Seoul hantavirus. We also identified a wide range of known and novel viruses from groups that contain important human pathogens, including sapoviruses, cardioviruses, kobuviruses, parechoviruses, rotaviruses, and hepaciviruses.

The Times translates this into equally scary English:

They discovered bacteria that caused food poisoning, such as Salmonella and a strain of E. coli known to cause terrible diarrhea. They also found pathogens that caused fevers, such as Seoul hantavirus and Leptospira. […]

So far, they have identified 18 unknown species related to viruses already shown to cause diseases in humans. Two of the new species, were similar to the virus that causes hepatitis C.

Everybody’s looking all over the world, in all sorts of exotic places, including us,” said Lipkin. “But nobody’s looking right under our noses.”

On the plus side: No bubonic plague. Yet.