What Types of Diseases Do Rats Carry?

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Pet rats may carry a variety of diseases, including hantavirus, leptospirosis and plague. Most pet rats are not exposed to these diseases, but if the rat is a carrier, many of these diseases can be transmitted to humans

Tip

  • Prevent the spread of disease from your pet rat by using good hygiene when handling him. Wear gloves to clean his cage and wash your hands after contact with him. Rats may carry disease without showing signs of infection, but if your rat becomes ill, contact a veterinarian immediately.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome

People can get hantavirus from infected rats through the animal's urine and feces. The cotton rat and rice rat are known carriers of the virus, but do not display symptoms. In humans, the virus causes muscle ache, fatigue, fever, coughing and shortness of breath. The disease progresses quickly to cause respiratory distress that is fatal in up to 40 percent of patients, according to the American Lung Association.

Hantavirus has no specific treatment or cure, but patients treated with oxygen in the intensive care unit increase their chances of survival. The earlier treatment is started, the better the outlook for the patient. Patients that do survive recover completely with no chronic or lasting symptoms.

Monkeypox Viral Infection

Monkeypox is a rare virus that rats can carry. The disease originated in Africa, but an outbreak occurred in the United States in 2003. The virus spreads to humans through the bite of an infected rodent or direct contact with body fluids. Humans experience fever, muscle aches, swollen lymph nodes and lesions. There is no specific treatment for the disease, but vaccinations are available.

Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis Virus

The _lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus _is most commonly carried by house mice, but rats can also be carriers. Disease transmission to humans is rare, but can occur through exposure to the infected rodent's urine, feces or nesting material. If infected, people experience flu-like symptoms. Pregnant women are at highest risk for contracting the virus from an infected rat, and infection my result in birth defects and mental retardation in the baby.

Bacterial Infections

Rats also carry several bacterial diseases that may infect your family. Bacterial diseases are treated with antibiotic medications.

Leptospirosis

Some rats may carry the leptospirosis bacteria that can be passed to humans through contact with contaminated urine. Not all people who are infected develop symptoms of the disease, but those that do may experience severe headache, fever, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle pain. In severe cases, people may develop mental confusion, depression, meningitis, anemia or liver or kidney failure.

Plague

If your rat has the Yersinia pestis bacterium that causes plague, you may contract the disease through direct contact with your pet. Fleas that have fed on the rat may then bite you and infect you with the disease. Symptoms of plague in humans may include fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes and headache. If the bacteria are inhaled into the lungs, you must get treatment within 24 hours or the disease will be fatal.

Tularemia

Tularemia, which is caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, is most common in wild animals, including rats. Humans become exposed to the disease through bites from sick animals or contact with an infected rat's body, blood or raw meat. Ticks that have fed on an infected rat may also go on to infect humans with the disease. Symptoms in humans may include skin ulcers, swelling of the lymph nodes, sore throat, cough, chest pain or difficulty breathing.

Salmonellosis

Rats may carry salmonella bacteria and spread the disease to humans through their stool. If you contract salmonellosis from your rat, you may experience diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever. The disease usually lasts 4 to 7 days and most people recover without treatment.

Rat Bite Fever

Rat bite fever is a rare disease caused by one of two different types of bacteria that live in a rat's mouth: Streptobacillus moniliformis and Spirillum minus. The disease can be transmitted through bites and scratches, although not all bites result in infection. Humans with the disease may experience fever, vomiting, joint and muscle pain, rash and headache.

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