Rat-Transmitted Disease Surges in NYC, Sanitation Workers Most Affected

Rat-Transmitted Disease Surges in NYC
Rat-Transmitted Disease Surges in NYC. Credit | Shutterstock

United States: The New York City health officials are reportedly seeing a jump in cases of a rare disease which is linked to rat urine.

As per the reports, among the most affected are the sanitation workers who collect the city’s trash and are frequently exposed to rats.

Therefore, the workers are disproportionately getting infected with leptospirosis, the illness caused by exposure to rats’ urine, USA Today reported.

Several cases of the disease have been reported in New York City

Celia Quinn, New York City’s capital health comissioner of disease control, approve that more than 24 cases have been reported in 2023, the highest number across all years ever. At the time of the current writing in the year of June, only six incidences were already stated as reported up to April 10th.

In NYC, from 2001 until the end of 2023, the health department implemented the investigation of 98 reported cases, and surprisingly, 25 percent of reports were observed in 2023.

By the statements of USA Today, Mayor Eric Adams was named to treat the city as the very first “rat czar” in April 2023. His job is to enable the population to reduce pests and the streets to be cleaner, and he will take measures to look for new methods of trash collection.

Moreover, the City Council is also considering issuing ordinances that would help in decreasing the rat population by using a birth control program.

Nespoli, of the sanitation workers union said in 2024, six sanitaion workers were infected by the disease. Five of the 24 cases in 2023 had occured among sanitation workers.

The sanitation department is working to contain the disease

Visual Representation. Credit | Shutterstock

Vincent Gragnani, a spokesperson for the city sanitation department mentioned that the department is continuosly staying in touch with workers about the ways to prevent leptospirosis.

As per the issued guidelines, the workers are urged to wear gloves to prevent contact with rat urine, notwithstanding the other dangers.

Gragnani also mentioned that, as the city moves more trash into containers, sanitation workers would not have much direct contact with trash, as well as the trash bags.

As success could be seen last year, after placing trash into containers, the sightings of rats have been reduced to 311, including 6.3 percent citywide and 14.3 percent in rat mitigation zones, as per the official’s report.

Health officials, in a statement, said they have been working with the sanitation department’s medical division on occupational safety and health to alert city workers about occupational hazards, methods of good practice, and personal safety measures, including the use of personal protective equipment. The department hosted virtual event which took place on Wednesday to inform workers about leptospirosis as well as other health risks.

About the leptospirosis disease

In its notice last week, the health department said the causative bacteria behind leptospirosis illness is also found in infected animals’ urine.

It is mostly transmitted through the contamination of the skin, oral mucosal membranes or eyes with infected water or soil, followed with swallowing or by entering the nasal passage.

In New York, together with this bacterium, “NR rough Leuvarik,” Norwegian rat is the main factor. This breed is first a large brown rat.

The specific bacteria found in New York City is similar to the Norwegian rat, a large brown rat breed found generally rushing through the city’s trash, streets, subways, basements, and sewage.

According to studies, the transmission of the disease to other people is not common. Health authorities reported that sickness is most likely to become ill if a person is in contact with dirty spots where rats have urinated. This most probably would happen when a person is handling the trash bag.

Leptospirosis symptoms

The incubation period for the disease can range from five to fourteen days or two days to one month; in some individuals, the disease can show signs for up to two weeks or as long as one month.

Firstly, the symptoms of individuals suffering from cholera can be vastly different than those mentioned above, namely, fever, headache, diarrhea, jaundice, and rash, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

However, if it remains untreated, it can cause kidney failure, meningitis, liver damage, respiratory distress, and probably death may occur.

According to an advisory from city health officials, leptospira bacteria are mostly killed in cold or dry conditions. Although the harder rains and the unusually hot conditions, which result from climate change, restrict the duration of their survival, it also leads to the possibility of bacteria’s greater prevalence.

This is one of the reasons why bacteria manage to live in New York City. Officials credited hotter and wetter climates as the cause for two hotter and intensified events in June and October of 2023, as opposed to 10 of the year’s 24 cases occurring in previous years.