Life-threatening rat pee infections reach record levels in NYC

Enlarge / A rat searches for food on a subway platform at the Columbus Circle – 59th Street station on May 8, 2023, in New York.

Last year, a potentially deadly bacterial infection, usually transmitted through rat urine, sickened a record number of people in New York — and this year, it appears on track to reach a new record, reports the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The infection is leptospirosis, which can cause a range of symptoms, including non-specific symptoms like fever, headache, chills, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea and cough. But, if left untreated, it can become serious, causing kidney failure, liver damage, jaundice, hemorrhage, bloody eyes (conjunctival suffusion), respiratory distress and potentially death.

The bacteria that causes it: spirochete bacteria of the genus Leptospira– infect rats, which excrete the bacteria in their urine. Germs are spread to people through direct contact with open wounds or mucous membranes.

New York City has long been engaged in a (mostly losing) war against its rat population, estimated last year at 3 million. Mayor Eric Adams has made combating the rat population a key initiative, and last week the City Council proposed the latest strategy to reduce the furry brown rodent colony: birth control in the form of salty pellets .

However, until recently, leptospirosis was not a major concern following the harm caused by rats. Between 2001 and 2020, the city recorded an average of only three cases of leptospirosis per year, and some of them were travel-related. But things changed during the pandemic when the rat population seemed to explode. Between 2021 and 2022, the average increased to 15. In 2023, there were 24 cases, the highest number of cases ever recorded in a single year. And as of April 10, there have been six cases so far.

This number of cases so far this year is concerning given that Leptospira bacteria are “fragile,” as the New York health department says. They die quickly in the freezing temperatures of winter and the dry heat of summer. Their main growing period is in warm, humid conditions. Last year, the months with the most cases were June and October. The Health Ministry noted that climate change, which causes excessive rain and unseasonably warm temperatures, could be partly to blame for the rise in cases.

In a health advisory issued last week, the city health department advised clinicians to be on the lookout for cases, which are treated with common oral antibiotics when mild or with intravenous doses when ‘they are serious. Symptoms usually develop 5 to 14 days after exposure, but can appear anywhere from 2 to 30 days.

Of the 98 locally acquired cases the city recorded between 2001 and 2023, almost all were in men (94%) and the median age was 50, with a range of 20 to 80. Most commonly, cases occurred in the Bronx (37), followed by Manhattan (28), Brooklyn (19), Queens (10) and Staten Island (4). Cases presented to clinicians presenting acute renal and hepatic failure and sometimes severe respiratory compromise. Of the 98 cases, six died.

Cases are usually linked to living or working environments containing rat urine, contaminated soil and water, or materials frequently contaminated with rat urine, such as trash bags or plastic bags. food bins. The Ministry of Health noted that human-to-human transmission is rare.

New York is not the only city plagued by cases of leptospirosis. Last year, doctors in the Netherlands reported the case of an 18-year-old with jaundice and bloody eyes who developed leptospirosis after falling into a canal possibly contaminated with rodent urine. .

News Source :
Gn Health

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