This nasty pest is spreading infections to humans in New York City

Photo by Roberto Vivancos from Pexels

Life in the big city often means dealing with some nasty pests.

Some people deal with more pests than others, and it often comes down to basic cleanliness.

But now one nasty pest is spreading dangerous infections to humans who live in and visit New York City.

NYC sees rat-related illnesses

Multiple cases of human leptospirosis, an infection associated with exposure to rat urine, have been reported by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

According to the report, there were 24 cases of the disease in New York City in 2023, higher than in any other year prior.

However, there have already been six cases of the same disease reported in the first quarter of 2024 alone.

Health officials said, “For comparison, the average number of locally acquired cases from 2021 to 2023 was 15 per year, and 3 cases per year during 2001 to 2020. This year, 6 cases have been reported as of April 10, 2024.”

The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene noted that among the 98 locally acquired cases reported from 2001 to 2023, the median case age was 50 years and 94% of the cases were male.

In terms of location, the cases were reported most often “from the Bronx (37), followed by Brooklyn (19), Manhattan (28), Queens (10), and Staten Island (4).”

Leptospirosis presents a wide range of symptoms, including renal and hepatic failure and severe pulmonary issues in severe cases.

Other symptoms may include headache, chills, fever, vomiting, muscle aches, diarrhea, cough, jaundice, rash, and conjunctival suffusion, the city said.

The incubation period for leptospirosis is between 5 and 14 days, but it may last between 2 to 30 days. 

If left untreated, it can cause kidney failure, liver damage, meningitis, and respiratory distress. 

Six deaths were caused by leptospirosis from 2001 to 2023 in New York City, according to the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The bacteria are fragile and can die within minutes in dry heat or freezing temperatures, but health officials said, “The cold winters of NYC likely limit the extent to which leptospirosis can survive in the environment.”

“However, excessive rain and unseasonably warm temperatures, factors associated with climate change, may support the persistence of leptospirosis in more temperate areas like NYC,” the department added.

Rat urine exposure is common in NYC

In a press release, local health officials noted that it’s not uncommon for people in New York to be exposed to leptospirosis.

Officials said, “In NYC, locally acquired cases typically have a history of a residential or occupational exposure to rat urine or environments (including soil and water) and materials contaminated with rat urine (e.g., handling trash bags or bins containing food waste).”

Half of the locally acquired cases were reported in June and October of 2023, when the weather was warmer and wetter due to excessive rain when compared to prior years.

All cases of leptospirosis must be reported to the NYC Health Department within 24 hours.

Residents can find more information about the bacteria on the New York City Health Department and CDC websites. 

Informed American will keep you up-to-date on any developments to this ongoing story.