Rats and COVID-19


Few are talking about the rat crisis resulting from COVID-19, which is making it a difficult time to be a rat.  In big cities like Chicago, New York, New Orleans, Detroit, etc. as restaurants and fast food places are operating on a limited basis or not operating at all there’s not nearly as much trash. Actually, for thousands and thousands of years, rats have depended on our discarding food for most of their food. Rats most often dine in the shadows, maybe at 4 a.m. when most people aren’t around to watch. When such a lavish meal source vanishes, hungry rats become more visible as they desperately seek out a meal. This means more rats out and about more often, eating in the open and urinating and defecating in the open – and that matters.

Aside from grossing people out, rats do carry disease. At the top of that list is leptospirosis. People continue walking their dogs. And dogs and also people are susceptible to leptospirosis.

Lepto is a bacterial infection which rats (and other animals) transmit through their urine. A dog can drink from a puddle, river, stream or any body of water – from very small to very large – and if not protected with the leptospirosis vaccine, an infection can easily occur. Dogs (not protected by the vaccine) may even step into water tainted by lepto and lick a paw after and become infected.

While some dogs with leptospirosis are asymptomatic, others can get very sick and even die. What’s more, if not protected by a vaccine, an infected dog can contribute to spread in the community to other dogs.

If an infected dog has an accident indoors (most likely that may be a puppy), and someone (likely a toddler) touches the urine and then puts hand to mouth, a person may then become infected. And just like in dogs, leptospirosis can potentially create serious illness in people.

For dogs, vaccinations are available for leptospirosis. So, potentially, depending on where you live – even with all that is happening and restricted veterinary services, it’s easy to make the case for vaccinating.

This report is on New Orlean rat issues from CBS this morning on rats and COVID-19: