How Rats Make You Sick

Where there are people, there are rats. Throughout history, rats have accompanied man to each new area that he has visited or settled in. In fact, black rats are also popularly known as ship rats because of their propensity to stow away on sea-going vessels and spread to different parts of the globe. But this prolific power of rats wouldn’t be too much of a problem if only they didn’t pose such a significant threat to human health.

Rats have always been considered a dangerous pest. This is especially true when they come in large numbers. For example, rats are infamous for the part they played in the spread of the bubonic plague (otherwise known as the Black Death), which was one of the most devastating pandemics mankind has ever faced. While there are no exact figures as to the death toll of the Black Death, modern estimates place it at around 70 to 200 million people. Fortunately, modern treatment methods have effectively reduced the chances of another pandemic. But despite this fact, the Center for Disease Control still lists about a dozen rat-related disease. Here are a few:


The disease takes its name from the bacteria called salmonella — the same strand of bacteria that causes food poisoning. Common symptoms of salmonellosis include vomiting and diarrhea, which lasts anywhere from four to seven days. Fortunately, most cases of this disease require little to no treatment. Hospitalization is only required when the diarrhea gets so severe as to cause dehydration.


Like salmonellosis, leptospirosis is also caused by a bacterial infection. The bacteria responsible for leptospirosis is called leptospira. This bacteria resides in the rat’s kidney and is spread through its urine.

Leptospirosis thrives in warm climates like tropical areas, because the temperature is ideal for bacterial growth. Individuals who are most at risk of contracting leptospirosis are those who are regularly exposed to water and animals, such as those working in the agricultural industry,

Symptoms of the disease are similar to those of the flu and will usually manifest themselves within 14 days from infection.


Unlike some of the diseases mentioned in this article, hantavirus can be caused by various species of rodent, such as mice and voles. Moreover, different rodents carry distinct strands of the virus. This makes the virus more adaptable to different parts of the world since each location may have a different prolific rodent species. Fortunately, the disease isn’t particularly harsh if treated promptly. In most cases, victims can reasonably expect the symptoms of hantavirus to be similar to those of the flu.