Oh God. A rare and deadly illness linked to rats has infected three people in the Bronx, killing one. New York City health officials are investigating this cluster of leptospirosis — the name of this bacterial disease, which is spread through the urine of infected animals — which broke out over the past two months in a one-block radius in the Grand Concourse section of the Bronx, reports the New York Post.
According to the Department of Health, all three infected individuals were hospitalized with severe symptoms, including kidney and liver failure. The illness proved fatal in one individual, who has not been identified. The other two survived, and have since been released from care.
Leptospirosis is not totally unheard of in New York City — in the past decade, from 2006 to 2016, the city recorded 26 cases across five boroughs. But the clustering is unusual — and the last time a mini-outbreak occurred was in 2009, among city dogs. The bacteria that cause the disease are found in other animals, but this being a city of rodents, they’re the likely culprit behind these infections. The illness is very rarely passed between humans, and people often catch it when the infected rat pee gets into water or soil, where the bacteria can survive for up to months.
The New York Times says officials are working now to reduce the rat population in the Bronx neighborhood, and to educate residents on the symptoms — which resemble those of every other disease such as vomit, diarrhea, fever, chills, and muscle aches. Leptospirosis is treatable with antibiotics, and the severity of the recent Bronx infections is also uncommon. Health officials recommend, among other common-sense hygiene tips, “avoiding contact with rats or places where rats have urinated,” so really sorry if you just read this on the subway.