No one wants to find their home infested with rats. While these rodents may make nice pets, wild rats that invade your home can cause widespread damage to your home’s structure and electrical wiring but can also put you and your family at risk of severe health complications. Rats can spread disease through bites, scratches, and direct contact with their urine and feces, and also through bites from ticks, fleas, mites, and mosquitos that feed on infected rodents.
Here we take a closer look at the many diseases sharing a home with a rat infestation can cause.
- Rats can spread disease to humans directly through bites, scratches, and contact with their urine, but they are also responsible for the spread of many other diseases through the bite of fleas, ticks, mites, and mosquitos.
- The bubonic plague, known as the black plague, killed an estimated 50 million people throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa in the 14th century and was responsible for the first plague epidemic in the continental United States in 1900 when it killed over 100 people in San Francisco. While not directly caused by rats, bubonic plagues are a rat-borne disease transferred to humans through flea bites.
Can you get sick from rats in your house?
Rat infestations in the home can make you sick in various ways. While direct contact or a bite from a rat is an obvious way disease may spread, some diseases spread by rats can make you sick simply from inhaling dust particles containing rat urine or feces. Even if you never physically see a rat in your home, their presence and the fleas or ticks feeding on them can allow the transmission of additional diseases. Even if the rats infesting your home are disease-free, their droppings, dander, and shed hair can trigger allergies and allergic reactions. Removal with professional rat and pest control services can help reduce your risk of possible disease transmission and other medical concerns.
Diseases transmitted directly by rats
Diseases transmitted directly from rats spread to humans through bites, scratches, and direct contact with urine or feces from contaminated materiaks, food, and water. It can also be transmitted through improper handling of dead rats caught in a trap. Here we look at some of the common diseases that are spread directly to humans by rats.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that can affect both animals and humans. In humans, Leptospirosis can cause symptoms such as:
- High fever
- Muscle aches
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal pain
Because the symptoms mimic other conditions, it is important to let medical professionals know if you have exposure to rats. Leptospirosis can cause kidney damage, meningitis, respiratory distress, liver failure, and death if left untreated. Antibiotics, either in pill form or intravenous, should be given early in the infection to prevent complications.
2. Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome
Hantaviruses are a family of viruses spread by rats and other rodents worldwide. In the United States, rats can spread hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). Early symptoms of HPS can include fatigue, fever, and muscle aches in the thighs, hips, back, and shoulders. Within four to 10 days, late symptoms can include cough, shortness of breath, pressure in the chest, and difficulty breathing. There is no specific treatment for HPS, but immediate medical treatment to manage symptoms early is essential. Intubation and oxygen are often necessary for late stages, and the disease has a mortality rate of 38%.
3. Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM)
Lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM) is a viral infectious disease caused by the direct transmission of the lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) from a rat or house mouse. While this virus doesn’t always cause symptoms, early symptoms can include fever, lack of appetite, muscle aches, headaches, nausea, and vomiting. When these symptoms subside, a second stage of the disease can occur, causing symptoms similar to meningitis, encephalitis, meningoencephalitis, and acute hydrocephalus. This inflammation and pressure on the brain can cause neurological symptoms such as confusion, sensory disturbances, motor function abnormalities, weakness, and paralysis. Immediate medical treatment is essential for a positive outcome.
The bacteria Salmonella causes salmonellosis. This bacterium can live naturally in the intestines of rodents, reptiles, and amphibians without ever making them sick. However, these animals, including rats, can shed bacteria in their feces. When rat feces come into contact with food or water you drink or eat, you become infected by the contaminated food and water. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. While most people recover without treatment, severe cases may require antibiotics.
4. Rat-bite fever
One of two different bacteria causes rat-bit fever (RBF). In North America, Streptobacillus moniliformis causes RBF, while Spirillum minus causes the disease in Asia. While humans become infected with rat-bite fever through a bite, the same bacteria can also spread through food and water contaminated by rat feces. When this occurs, it is known as Haverhill fever. Symptoms can include fever, vomiting, headache, muscle pain, joint pain and swelling, and a rash. Complications of RBF fever can include internal abscesses, liver and kidney infections, pneumonia, meningitis, and infections of the heart, such as endocarditis, myocarditis, or pericarditis. Early treatment with antibiotics is essential, and most will recover. However, there is a 10 percent mortality rate.
Rats are known vectors for spreading the monkeypox virus. The virus spreads through direct rodent contact and with contaminated materials, such as bedding or material that contains urine and/or feces. It can then spread from person to person through direct contact. The viral incubation period can range from six to 21 days before symptoms appear.
Early symptoms can include fever, intense headaches, lymph node swelling, back pain, muscle aches, and a lack of energy. Within one to three days after initial symptoms, skin eruptions begin, typically on the face and limbs. Flat lesions begin and quickly progress to pustules filled with a yellow fluid before crusting and falling off. Vaccination is available to prevent the condition.
Diseases transmitted indirectly by rats
The following diseases are transmitted indirectly by rats through the bite of fleas, ticks, mites, and mosquitos that bite the rat and transfer the disease when they bite humans.
1. Bubonic Plague
Caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, the plaque is spread through a flea bite but can also infect humans through direct contact with an infected rat. While infamous for killing millions in the Middle Ages, today the plague is treated with antibiotics. However, without prompt treatment, serious illness or death can still occur.
Symptoms can include fever, headache, chills, weakness, swollen and painful lymph nodes, skin discoloration, pneumonia, cough, and shortness of breath. The plague is a serious medical condition that requires immediate medical treatment.
Tularemia is a disease that affects both humans and animals. While the direct spread of the condition can occur if you come into direct contact with an infected animal, tularemia can also spread indirectly through tick and deer fly bites and inhaling contaminated material.
Symptoms depend on how you were infected but can include fever, skin ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, inflammation of the eyes, sore throat, mouth sores, headache, muscle aches, cough, diarrhea, pneumonia, and progressive weakness. Severe or untreated cases of tularemia can lead to chronic heart failure, meningitis, and death.
3. West Nile virus
West Nile virus is the leading cause of mosquito-borne disease and occurs through mosquitos that have fed on infected rodents or birds. While there is no treatment for West Nile virus, most people with the virus do not feel sick. Around one in five people develop fevers and additional symptoms, while one in 150 can go on to develop severe and often fatal diseases.
Minor symptoms can include headache, body aches, joint pain, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, and fatigue that can last weeks. More serious symptoms can include encephalitis, meningitis, high fever, convulsions, tremors, coma, vision loss, paralysis, and death.
4. Flea-borne (murine) typhus
Flea-borne (murine) typhus is a disease caused by the bacteria Rickettsia typhi and spreads to people through flea bites or the inhalation of flea dirt. The disease does not spread from person to person and can only be acquired through contact with fleas. Severe illness is rare, but if left untreated can cause severe illness and organ damage.
Symptoms begin within two weeks of initial contact and can include:
- Fever and chills
- Muscle aches
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
Rat infestations can be hazardous to your family
While the idea of rats infesting your home and causing damage is scary enough, the idea that these rodents can put your family at risk of severe disease should be enough to stop you in your tracks. While setting traps and trying to eliminate rats on your own is possible, it must be done with care to prevent contact with infected animals. Professional pest management and rodent control are recommended as they have the equipment to handle these rodents best and help you prevent more infestations down the road.
Keep your home rat-free
At Arrest a Pest, our team of technicians are rat experts and specialize in their identification and extermination, leaving your home rat-free and reducing your risk of potential health concerns. Once the rats are removed, our team will help create a management program that helps eliminate points of entry and keep rats from coming in and sharing your space.
To learn more, schedule an appointment today.