New York City Rats Are More Diseased Than You Know

October 14, 2014 | Marina Galperina

In a groundbreaking local study, scientists at Columbia University have conducted a survey of viruses carried by the rats of Manhattan. They tested the feces, urine, blood and tissue samples of 133 rodents. What they found was “shocking and surprising” even to pathogen experts.

Not only did the rats carry scores of known food-borne illnesses (like Salmonella, which causes horrible diarrhea), but diseases that have never before been seen in New York (like the Seoul hantavirus, which causes fever) as well as “18 unknown species related to viruses already shown to cause diseases in humans” (AAAA!!!), reports the New York Times.

The study — the first of its kind “to use DNA to catalog pathogens in any animal species in New York City” — was no easy task, as our homegrown pests are “a lot wilier” than rats elsewhere. No wonder we can’t seem to do anything to stop them.

Deputy commissioner for disease control at the New York City Department of Health, Jay Varma told the New York Times:

We live in a world where humans are in the minority. We as a society probably haven’t done enough to understand the true ecology of bacteria and viruses.

Not the most comforting of words, considering that the Ebola epidemic might have started from contact with an infected animal, but don’t worry — these rats definitely did not have that virus that causes the bubonic plague. Phew! (Photo: Matthew Winterburn/Flickr)