On the heels of the news that New York is increasingly drowning in rats, rat babies and rat droppings, a team of Columbia University researchers has published a study suggesting that rats are furry little pathogen cesspools that could potentially make humans very sick. Not that any of this is so surprising (who could forget the Black Death?), but it's fun to find all those rat illnesses in print. Save the rest of this post for your lunch break for enhanced enjoyment.
The Times reported today that Ian Lipkin, a professor of neurology and pathology at Columbia University, along with several colleagues, studied and catalogued the pathogens festering inside a sampling of 133 rat Manhattanites. And they found some pretty cool viruses and bacteria, including (but not limited to) Salmonella, strains of E. Coli, Leptospira and
Lipkin and his team also found the rats boasted 18 yet-identified species of virus, including two that are closely related to hepatitis C. And for some reason, researchers say we should find that comforting—though apparently the rats that have turned our breakfasts into edible jungle gyms won't give us hepatitis, they may help us come up with a cure. "It’s still a few steps to go before you can call it an animal model, but I think overall it’s a really exciting finding," Alexander Ploss, a researcher at Princeton University, told the Times.
As for whether or not we should be fighting these rats to the death, or simply fleeing the city and ceding Manhattan in the tiny grey claws of our betters, the response seems mixed. Peter Daszak, the very comforting president of global heath group EcoHealth Alliance, told the Grey Lady that the Columbia study was "shocking and surprising," and "a recipe for a public health nightmare." Meanwhile, a biologist at the University of Montana told the paper that she didn't "see it as a call to wage war on rats just yet," which served as a relief prior to discovering this stock photo of her.
The city received 24,586 rat complaints last year, and that may not even include all the rats you befriended by your recycling bins. Feel free to add this news to your midnight WebMD binge, along with that one weird bruise you have, Ebola and used subway condoms.