NYC Rats Have Tons Of Viruses That Could Potentially Infect Humans

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A recent study on New York City’s rats found the critters to contain 18 previously unknown viruses.

Columbia Professor of neurology and pathology Ian Lipkin and his team collected 133 rats in New York City to learn more about diseases that could spread to humans as several outbreaks, including the current Ebola epidemic, might have begun through contact with an infected animal.

Samples of blood, urine, feces and organ tissue revealed bacteria that cause food-related illnesses such as Salmonella and E. coli along with pathogens that trigger fevers like Seoul hantavirus and Leptospira.

Absent, however, was Yersinia pestis, a bacteria that causes the bubonic plague.

This was one of many very dangerous germs found in rats all over the world that was not present in the New York animals.

Of the 18 unknown bugs, two were very similar to the virus that causes hepatitis C.

The researchers called this the most valuable finding because it could provide crucial information on how to combat more effectively the disease, according to the New York Times.

Approximately 150 million people are suffering from hepatitis C, a disease that is very difficult to understand because lab animals infected with the human version do not exhibit the same symptoms as humans.

These new similar viruses will eventually be given to lab rats for testing, and scientists will hopefully be able to learn more about the disease.

Dr. Lipkin and his team are now working to examine blood samples of New York residents to search for any of the rat viruses. There is so far no evidence that any of the bugs have been passed from rats to humans.

But, considering how closely rats and New Yorkers live to each other, president of EcoHealth Alliance Peter Daszak is concerned.

Daszak, whose organization studies the way human health is related to wildlife, said

This is a recipe for a public health nightmare.

Animal pathogens are still a mystery to the scientific community, as it is largely unknown how the animals that trigger outbreaks become infected.

The first victim of the ongoing Ebola epidemic is said to have been infected by a fruit bat.

via New York Times, Photo Credit: Getty Images

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