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Rats of New York City are infected with 18 new viruses, Research says

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In New York City, According to latest research into the health of  rats has revealed that
they’re carrying at least 18 previously unidentified diseases – as well
as other known, pretty nasty illnesses.

The study, led by Columbia
University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York, identified
pathogens such as E. coli, Salmonella and the closest relative to human
hepatitis C on record, living in rats. The results are published in the
journal mBio.
Disease
can easily spread when people come in contact with rat saliva, urine or
feaces – something that happens quite frequently in rodent-infested
cities such as New York. In fact, it’s this kind of interaction between
humans and rats that caused the “black death”, or bubonic plague, of the
14th century.
To work out what kind of diseases the rats of NYC were carrying, the
scientists trapped 133 rats at five sites around the city, focussing on
those inside residential buildings in particular, for obvious
disease-spreading reasons.
They then used molecular testing to
look for known bacterial pathogens and viruses in the rats’ tissue and
excretions. They found that 15 of the 20 bacterial pathogens they were
testing for were present in the rats, as well as one virus, Seoul
hantavirus, which causes Ebola-like heamorrhagic fever in humans. This
is the first time the virus has been documented in New York City, and
the genetic clues in the rats suggest it’s a new arrival.

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The researchers also found 18
completely new viruses in the rats. None of these have been seen in
humans as yet, but the scientists say that transmission is possible.
Carl Franzen reports for The Verge:

“While
there’s no immediate cause for alarm, the scientists note that that the
spread of these new viruses from rats to humans could theoretically
already be occurring and is possible in the future, and are advocating
for more comprehensive disease monitoring in humans.”

“It started as a biodefense initiative,” said Ian Lipkin, senior author, about the study. “If we are to pick up something that is a novel threat to public health, we have to know the baseline microflora.”

The
good news is that two of these new viruses are structurally very
similar to the human Hepatitis C, which suggests that scientists could
use them as animals models to research cures and treatments for the
human virus.
This research will also help scientists keep an eye on any potential epidemics. As the press release explains: “With modern disease surveillance methods, a repeat of the rat-borne
Black Death, which killed as much as 60 percent of the population of
14th Century Europe, or a similar outbreak need not happen.”

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