Scientists want to track them to find out.
Rats are commonplace in urban areas yet remain a mystery in many ways. But researchers plan to track New York City rats to get a better idea of what pathogens they may spread.
But despite how commonplace rats are in cities around the world, they remain in many ways mysterious, including in the potential threat they pose to public health, experts say. To combat that, a trio of scientists outlined in the journal Frontiers in Public Health step-by-step recommendations for how they say public health officials should capture rats, implant them with microchips, test them for pathogens, and track their activity. The methods were developed and tested with rats in New York City.
“There’s not a lot of research being done with rodents, and because of that, we don’t have a lot of information about the pathogens they harbor,” said Michael Parsons, the report’s lead author and a chemical and behavioral ecologist. .
Rats – and rodents more broadly – aren’t responsible for nearly as many disease cases or deaths as, say, mosquitoes. But they can transmit fevers, a type of meningitis, and, yes, plague. The diseases are spread through bites and scratches, pathogens in the animals’ feces and urine, and via fleas. (People are not susceptible to all pathogens that rats harbor.)
“Instead of sampling animals periodically, on a punctuated basis,” Parsons said, “we need to implement something on a continual basis.” In 2015, the city’s rat budget got a $2.9 million boost and its program has about 170 people on staff, including exterminators and scientists.
The paper, which Parsons wrote with a fellow Hofstra scientist and a medical entomologist from an extermination company, outlines the steps the researchers developed to trap rats and then monitor them. After being released, the rats were drawn back to sensors that weighed them, providing regular insights into their health. The researchers also recaptured some rats for tests to see if pathogen levels changed over time.
Got Questions? We have Answers! Contact us at CriteriumBlog@criteriuminc.com