Plague-carrying fleas found on New York City rats

RatBreakingThrough_blogOriental rat fleas, the same vermin that were responsible for transmitting the Bubonic Plague throughout Europe in the 14th century, have been found in New York City’s rat population, according to new research published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

“If these rats carry fleas that could transmit the plague to people, then the pathogen itself is the only piece missing from the transmission cycle,” Matthew Frye, PhD, an urban entomologist with Cornell’s New York State Integrated Pest Management Program, said in a recent article.

According to the research, of the 6,5000 specimens taken from 133 rats, 500 of them contained Oriental rat fleas, which are also responsible for the transmission of Rickettsia (a potentially deadly infection that causes confusion and severe weakness, difficulty breathing, gangrene, kidney malfunction, and shock) as well as Bartonella, which is responsible for causing several diseases in humans including Cat Scratch Disease, Trench Fever, and Carrión’s Disease.

The rats were trapped over a 10-month period at five locations in Manhattan, including in three residential buildings, and is the first pest survey of its kind conducted in New York City since the 1920s.

As stated in the article, New York City officials will be closely monitoring the city’s rat population to see if any dangerous pathogens are being actively transmitted via fleas.

For New Yorkers or anyone concerned about the rat population where they live, Frye suggests that they can take steps to avoid rat infestations by removing water and anything that a rat would consider food from living quarters and preventing their access to shelter. Calling an exterminator the first time you see a rat inside your place of residence, he said, is also an important step to follow.

“In this age of modern medicine, I think New Yorkers are safe from an outbreak of plague,” Frye said in another article. “That is because we have antibiotics that can effectively treat plague when it is recognized early. However, I think it is important that people take rodents more seriously as public health pests. Mice and rats living in someone’s home should be viewed as a serious problem.”

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