NEW YORK – Scientists from Cornell and Columbia universities have found hundreds of rats, carrying hundreds of fleas, that could potentially cause deadly diseases within New York and in neighboring states.
“Wow. Plague fleas on rats in New York. I would have never imagined.” said Cola Capers, 54, of Harlem. “You take all kinds of precautions in life, but all you can really do is trust in the Lord.”
“We think we we’re safe, but turns out everything in New York is worse than we ever ever thought,” said Elvin Lopez, 32, a construction worker from Queens. “What are you going to do? Rats are everywhere in New York City.”
The fleas riding on these rodents are capable of causing an outbreak of the bubonic plague, typhus, and spotted fever among other diseases, judging by the various bacteria they carry.
According to study lead author Mathew Frye, an entomologist from Cornell, the team studied 133 NYC rats – among these were Oriental rates, carrying 6,500 fleas, lice, and mites carrying deadly bacteria that can cause severe infections in humans.
With a single flea bite, a human comes down with diseases because fleas regurgitate the infected blood of rats as well as their guts when they bite people, passing along diseases. And worse enough, some of the fleas were found to be carrying the Bartonella pathogens.
“These pathogens can cause a wide range of clinical syndromes, some severe,”said the study’s co-author, Cadhla Firth.
Frye took his samples from residential buildings, mixed-use buildings, and outdoor spaces – and obtained various distribution of rats, fleas and bacteria. “We saw a tremendous amount of variation, and there’s probably a lot more variation within the city,” he said.
But NYC Health Department denied that plague-carrying rats are present in the city, stating that “Plague requires extreme circumstances besides fleas to pose a threat to human health, and those circumstances do not exist here.”
But then, the researchers have also analyzed that exposure to rodent hair, droppings, and urine among others cause allergies, asthmas in children, and raises other health risks.
“Removing food and water and preventing access to shelter are key to knocking back rodent infestations,” said Frye, recommending that proper housekeeping should keep the rats and the diseases they cause away from people.