We’ve all heard about the health hazards associated with rats because of the diseases they can spread to humans. Who hasn’t heard of the plague? It’s well known rats (and fleas) had a big part in spreading the bubonic plague known as the “Black Death” back in the 1300s.
There are over 79 species of rodents in North America. The most common species of rodents causing a nuisance for humans are the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus), black rat (rattus rattus), and the house mouse (Mus musculus). All of these species carry disease.
These rodent-borne diseases can cause serious symptoms and are sometimes even fatal. These include rat bite fever, hantavirus, salmonellosis, and many others. Rats aren’t the only carriers of these diseases. There are approximately 1,500 species of rodents, and they all carry a risk of spreading some form of disease.
What may be surprising is that you can become infected with a disease from a rat without any direct contact to the rodent itself. Let’s take a look at the various ways infection can occur.
Direct contact with a rat, including pets
One of the risk factors of having a rat problem in your home is that rats can contaminate food, pet water bowls, countertops, and more when they are around your home. Rat urine, feces, and saliva can contaminate these things. Cats and dogs can contract these illnesses in the same way as humans.
If you suspect you have rats in your home, it’s important to keep countertops and other surfaces sanitized. Viruses like hantavirus can live for 2-3 days at room temperature. The CDC recommends a cleaning solution of 1% household bleach to wipe down surfaces.
Keep food sealed in airtight containers. Rats can easily chew through food packaging, so items like cereal can be kept in plastic containers. Pet food and water bowls should be kept in a secure area at night so they do not become contaminated by rats.
If you have rats around your property, you may find areas with rat droppings outside, in your garage, or even in cupboards and other areas in your home.
What you may not know is inhalation of small particles from feces and urine can become airborne and contain harmful pathogens like hantavirus. If you notice droppings or rat urine in your home, it’s important to first open windows and create as much cross-ventilation as possible. People in the room should leave until the area is completely aired out.
When cleaning, wear adequate latex or rubber gloves, then spray the droppings or urine with a solution of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water. It’s very important not to stir up any particles by sweeping or vacuuming. Pick up the soiled areas with something disposable like a paper towel and dispose of it immediately. Go over the areas with a disinfectant. Be sure to carefully remove and properly dispose of gloves, and wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
Scratches or Bites
Rats don’t often come out around people, but there are instances when you could come in contact with one and it will scratch or bite when scared. Any time this happens, it’s important to immediately clean the wound thoroughly with soap and warm water. Apply an antibacterial ointment. The wound should be bandaged and kept clean. The same treatment should be done if you are bitten or scratched by a pet rat. Depending on the severity of the scratch or bite, it may be a good idea to see a doctor in case antibiotics are needed. Antibiotics can often prevent serious infection from developing.
Symptoms from diseases like rat bite fever can take 3-10 days to develop, so watch closely for signs like fever, nausea, headache, joint or back pain, and rashes. If left untreated, infection can cause heart damage, pneumonia, hepatitis, and even death.
Some diseases such as Weil’s disease (leptospirosis) can take up to 3 weeks to show up. Symptoms can be similar to the flu with chills, muscle aches, and fever. It’s important to pay attention to any signs of illness, even if it’s weeks after a scratch or bite from a rat or other rodent.
Bacteria and viruses from rats can contaminate your food. This is why an eating establishment will quickly be shut down by the health department if there are signs of rats near food. The Internet is full of viral videos of rats being seen at various restaurants or fast food locations.
At home, it’s important never to eat any food if the package is open or torn and you suspect you have rats. This is also the same for water or other drinks that are accessible to rats.
You can also ingest harmful germs from rats if you touch a contaminated surface and then touch food you are eating. Be sure to wash hands well with soap and water before eating or touching your mouth.
What can you do to minimize your risk?
The best thing you can do to minimize risk of contracting a rat-borne disease is keep rats out of your living space and off of your property. Inspect the exterior of your home for any entry points where rats can get into your home.
Keeping rats off of your property is the best way to stop them from finding a way in your home. Using a safe, toxin-free trapping method like the A24 Rat & Mouse Trap will ensure the trap will not harm pets or cause secondary poisoning to other wildlife.
The A24 can be used for successful property management outdoors, and can also be placed indoors. The traps are self-resetting and use long-life lures so they can be set and will continue to work for 6 months without refreshing.
Other forms of rodent control like rodenticides can be dangerous to pets and children. Rodenticides can are also a danger to wildlife and are harmful to the environment.
Trapping methods such as snap traps or glue traps are also dangerous to other animals and can cause unnecessary suffering to the rodent. The A24 is a quick-kill method, and dead rats can be safely scavenged by other wildlife without any poisoning risk.