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Can Rats Make You Sick?

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While small in stature, rats can pose a significant risk to your health. These tiny rodents can carry a staggering assortment of diseases, many of which can be transmitted to humans. Some of these transmittable rat diseases are more serious than others, but understanding each disease and its symptoms is crucial to safeguarding your and your loved ones’ health.

Common Rat Diseases

Rats can transmit many diseases, some more serious than others. Some are diseases from rat droppings; others are diseases from rat urine. Some diseases spread by rats can even be transmitted by saliva or handling. From rat-bite fever to leptospirosis, here are some of the most common diseases rats can transmit to you.

Rat-Bite Fever

Rat-bite fever (RBF) is an infectious disease caused by one of two types of bacteria: streptobacillus moniliformis and spirillum minus. Many pets and wild rodents, including rats, carry these bacteria in their mouths and respiratory tracts.

The disease is transmitted through food and water contaminated with rat urine or feces or through contact with rodents carrying the bacteria. You may become infected through scratches, bites, or by handling a rodent with the bacteria.

Symptoms usually appear three to ten days after exposure or consuming contaminated food or water. Sometimes, it can take as long as three weeks to notice symptoms.

Common symptoms of rat-bite fever include:

  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Muscle aches and pains.
  • Vomiting.
  • Rash.
  • Joint pain or swelling.

Rat-bite fever is curable with prompt treatment of antibiotics. If you notice symptoms indicating rat-bite fever, seek medical attention immediately, as it can be fatal if left untreated.

Plague

The Bubonic plague, known as the Black Death, was once a greatly feared disease. It claimed millions of lives during the Middle Ages, infecting person after person via exposure to infected fleas that travel on rodents, particularly rats.

The plague stems from a particular bacterium called Yersinia pestis, which can affect both humans and animals. While rats are often blamed for their spread, the fleas that hitch a ride on the rodents are usually responsible for transmission. However, since rats can carry these fleas, keeping rat infestations at bay is vital to prevent transmission and infection.

Symptoms of the Bubonic plague include:

  • Aches and pains in the abdomen, arms, and legs.
  • Swollen lumps in the lymph nodes that leak pus.
  • Sudden fever and chills.
  • Headaches.

When the lungs are impacted, it’s considered pneumonic plague. If the infection travels through the entire body, it is septicemic plague.

Hantavirus

Aside from RBF and plague, rats can also transmit hantavirus to humans. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS), part of the family of hantaviruses, is the most common type that affects people in the Americas. HPS, known as the “New World” hantavirus, is transmitted from rodents to people by the aerosolized virus the animals shed in their urine, feces, and saliva. It may also be transmitted by a bite from an infected rodent.

You may begin to notice symptoms anywhere from one to eight weeks after transmission. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever.
  • Sore, achy muscles.
  • Headaches.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath.

While it is treatable, HPS is serious and can be fatal if left untreated. If you suspect you may have been exposed to or contracted hantavirus, seek medical attention immediately.

Salmonellosis

Salmonellosis, caused by the bacterium salmonella, is commonly associated with consuming contaminated foods like eggs, poultry, milk, or pork. However, rats can also carry and transmit this infection to humans through their droppings.

Transmission typically happens when you consume food contaminated with animal feces, such as rat feces. Symptoms typically appear within 12 to 96 hours after exposure, although it can take up to two weeks for symptoms to show. Symptoms often include diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, and cramps.

While serious, these infections often resolve within about a week. Most people don’t need medical attention, although it may be necessary in severe cases.

Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis, caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira, is a bacterial disease that affects both people and animals. It’s usually transmitted via the urine of an infected animal. You can become infected with leptospirosis by touching anything contaminated with the infected urine, such as water or soil. The disease can pass to you when you touch your eyes, nose, mouth, or an area with broken skin after touching the infected item.

After contamination, the symptoms usually take anywhere from two days to four weeks to appear. You may experience various symptoms, including:

  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Chills.
  • Muscle aches and pains.
  • Diarrhea or vomiting.
  • Jaundice (yellowed skin and eyes).
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Rash.
  • Red eyes.

In some people, the illness may occur in two phases. The first phase includes the mentioned symptoms that can last up to three weeks or longer, sometimes broken up by a few days when you feel better. The second phase, which doesn’t always occur, can include kidney or liver failure or meningitis.

The condition is treatable, so if you suspect you may have leptospirosis, seek medical attention as soon as possible. While you may recover without treatment, it may take several months before you feel better, so it’s essential to get medical care to speed up the process.

Sanitizing after a Rat Infestation

If your house has become home to a host of rats, it’s important to thoroughly sanitize areas they inhabited after ensuring they can’t return.

First, you’ll need to ensure your home is rat-proof. While DIY methods may seem cost-effective, they can fail to eradicate the problem effectively and may expose you to greater health risks. This is where professional rat control comes in handy. With these services, you can leave the process to the pros and don’t have to sweat the details—they’ll handle it for you.

Of course, you can always do it yourself, but if you do, remember to take proper precautions to protect yourself and your family. Wear personal protective equipment, safely dispose of all contaminated materials, and carefully sanitize infested areas to ensure health and safety. When it comes to rat control and cleanup, safety should always be the top priority.

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