New York City rats found carrying 18 new viruses, study says

Kemberly Richardson Image
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Study says NYC rats carry 18 new viruses
Kemberly Richardson has more.

NEW YORK -- It's a first of its kind of study on rats. The creatures have long been associated with filth. It turns out the city's rat population carries 18 new viruses.

There's more than four or five at a time," said Walter Carpenter, a Midtown resident.

Right this second, you may not see them but they're there, crawling around.

"I see them early in the morning, they just keep coming, you'll see them," Carpenter said.

A new study which looked at rats in five spots in Manhattan revealed the pests are far grosser then we thought.

"I was pretty shocked," said Peter Daszak, of EcoHealth Alliance.

Peter Daszak heads up EcoHealth Alliance and says this study, the first of its kind, by a leading researcher at Columbia University, is a game changer.

"If we don't do anything about it and continue to let rats get in and out of our restaurants, we're going to see a real public health issue arise, this is a wakeup call," Daszak said.

Researchers discovered 18 new viruses, including a nasty one they've never seen here before, called the Seoul Hantavirus, a potentially life threatening bug.

"The problem is rats have evolved with us, they spread around the world as we've moved around the world, really good at living hand in hand with human populations," Daszak said.

Here's the problem; rats multiply really, really fast, over the course of a year, a pair can produce more than 100 offspring, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Researchers also came across bacteria, which can cause gastrointestinal problems.

On the flip side, there is a pair of viruses very similar to the Hepatitis C virus, which down the line could help doctor's find a vaccine for the illness in humans.

Bottom line is that this is a serious situation but not yet reason to panic.

The study could not say how sick New Yorkers were getting from these rat-borne agents.