21st century plague discovered by scientists

A new disease that is passed from rats to humans via fleas, much like the Black Death, has been discovered by scientists.

Research suggests that brown rats, the biggest and most common rats in Europe, may now be carrying the bacteria Photo: Alamy


The bacteria can cause serious heart disease in humans are being spread by rat fleas, sparking concern that the infections could become a bigger problem in humans.

Research published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology suggests that brown rats, the biggest and most common rats in Europe, may now be carrying the bacteria.



Since the early 1990s, more than 20 species of Bartonella bacteria have been discovered. They are considered to be emerging pathogens, because they can cause serious illness in humans worldwide from heart disease to infection of the spleen and nervous system.

"A new species called Bartonella rochalimae was recently discovered in a patient with an enlarged spleen who had travelled to South America," said Professor Chao-Chin Chang from the National Chung Hsing University in Taiwan.

"This event raised concern that it could be a newly emerged pathogens. Therefore, we decided to investigate further to understand if rodents living close to human environment could carry this bacteria."

Scientists have found that rodents carry several pathogenic species of Bartonella, such as B. elizabethae, which can cause endocarditis and B. grahamii, which was found to cause neuroretinitis in humans. Although scientists are unsure about the main route of transmission, these infections are most likely to be spread by fleas.

Ctenophthalmus nobilis, a flea that lives on bank voles, was shown to transmit different species of Bartonella bacteria. These pathogens have also been found in fleas that live on gerbils, cotton rats and brown rats.

The researchers took samples from 58 rodents, including 53 brown rats, two mice (Mus musculus) and three black rats (Rattus rattus).

Six of the rodents were found to be carrying Bartonella bacteria; 5 of these were brown rats. Four of the rodents were carrying B. elizabethae, which can cause heart disease in humans, and one of the black rats was found to be harbouring B. tribocorum.

The Black Death was one of the deadliest pandemics in human history, widely thought to have been caused by a bacterium named Yersinia pestis, or Bubonic plague.

It was spread by rodents in the 14th century and centuries after that, killing an estimated 75 million people worldwide.


By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
Published: 7:29PM GMT 24 Nov 2008




Rats and mice pose a major threat to health.

A recent article in the Public Health Journal described rats as Public Enemy Number one!

Recent reports from the National Pest Technicians Association and Leicester University identified both a massive 31% increase in rodent population and an increasing number of rats and mice which are immune to poison rodenticides.



Rats and mice in your home or work place will have been active in and travelled through sewers, drains, dustbins, litter bins, waste sites etc and will be carrying the residues of such activity. Rodents urinate continuously causing pollution of food and water. A rat expels up to 5.5 litres of urine per year. Human infection is most often caused by contact with urine. Rats produce about 40 droppings per day, mice about 80. Therefore anywhere which has been visited


 by rodents will be infected.

Rodents also cause damage to property. They can chew through almost any material including masonry, steel plastic electric cables water pipes etc posing a threat of flooding or fire. Rodents colonise and when one has entered your environment others will be quickly drawn to it. Rats and mice breed quickly producing many hundreds of offspring each year. Quick action will prevent a much larger problem developing.

Egg damage caused by rats
and mouse droppings in kitchen.

Life Cycle of Rats and Mice

Female rats can breed at 3 months old and mice at 2 months old and every 3 weeks thereafter.
Rats produce as many as 12 offspring each time. Mice produce 6 or more young each time.

Rodent damage to wiring and pipes can cause flooding and fire.

faq-chewingcables.jpgIt should be noted that most household insurance policies specifically exclude cover for damage by rodents

Changes in weather patterns caused by global warming, wet weather and mild winters have allowed rats and mice to thrive . Flooding drives rodents into homes and buildings for safety and shelter.

Government legislation requires that we all, as individuals, householders, businesses and organisations, take steps to control rats and mice and it is important that action is taken as soon as their presence is identified.



What should I do?
Do not panic! Most problems have solutions. Matter of time, but a solution.


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