What Diseases Do Rats Carry?

Bill Swank
First Published: | Updated: February 27, 2024

Rats are known carriers of numerous diseases that can be harmful to humans, including Leptospirosis, Hantavirus, and the Bubonic Plague. This post will discuss the various illnesses associated with rats, how they are transmitted, and the implications for public health. Understanding the diseases rats carry is crucial for effective pest control and preventing potential health risks in human communities.

  • Disease Transmission: Rats are carriers of various bacterial, viral, and parasitic diseases, such as leptospirosis, rat-bite fever, Hantavirus, and toxoplasmosis, which can be transmitted through direct or indirect contact with rat urine, feces, or nesting materials.
  • Symptoms and Treatment: Symptoms of rat-borne diseases can range from mild to severe, and while some diseases require antibiotics or antiviral medications, others, like Hantavirus, necessitate intensive care with no specific treatment available.
  • Prevention Strategies: To minimize the risk of rat infestations and associated diseases, it is essential to seal entry points, manage waste properly, maintain cleanliness, and store food securely.
  • Public Health Impact: Rat infestations have significant implications for community health, necessitating public health initiatives that include surveillance, education, and pest control programs to manage rat populations and prevent disease outbreaks.

Rat Diseases

Rats are notorious carriers of a multitude of diseases that can be transmitted to humans. These diseases can be bacterial, viral, or parasitic in nature, and the risk of transmission increases with the presence of rat infestations. Understanding the variety of illnesses that rats can carry is crucial for ensuring public health and safety.

Bacterial Infections from Rats

One of the most well-known diseases carried by rats is the bacterial infection known as leptospirosis. This disease is often spread through rat urine and can lead to severe health issues, including liver and kidney damage. Symptoms may include fever, chills, and muscle aches, but can escalate to more severe reactions if left untreated.

Another significant bacterial disease is rat-bite fever, which, as the name suggests, can be transmitted through bites or scratches from infected rats. It can also be contracted by handling a rat with the disease or consuming food contaminated with infected droppings. Symptoms often include fever, rash, and joint pain.

Viral Infections Spread by Rats

Rats can also spread viral infections such as Hantavirus, a severe respiratory disease that can be fatal. Humans typically contract Hantavirus through inhalation of dust contaminated with rat urine or feces. Early symptoms mimic the flu, making it difficult to diagnose, but it can rapidly progress to difficulty breathing and, if untreated, can lead to Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS).

Parasitic Diseases and Rats

Parasitic infections like toxoplasmosis can be carried by rats and transmitted to humans, often through contact with rat feces. Toxoplasmosis can cause flu-like symptoms in some people, while others may not show any symptoms at all. However, it poses a significant threat to pregnant women and individuals with weakened immune systems.

Other Diseases Carried by Rats

In addition to the diseases previously mentioned, rats are also responsible for the spread of other serious illnesses that can impact human health. These include salmonellosis, lymphocytic choriomeningitis (LCM), and even the plague.


Salmonellosis is a type of food poisoning that is often spread through rodent feces. When rats contaminate food supplies with their droppings, they can transmit the Salmonella bacteria. This bacterium is known to cause symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps. In severe cases, it can lead to hospitalization and requires prompt medical treatment. To prevent salmonellosis, it’s essential to maintain strict food hygiene and promptly address any signs of rodent infestation.

Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (LCM)

While less commonly associated with rats, LCM is a viral infectious disease that can be transmitted through the urine and droppings of infected rodents, particularly the common house mouse. It poses a risk of neurological diseases, including aseptic meningitis and encephalitis, which can have lasting effects on the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms can range from mild flu-like signs to more severe conditions requiring medical attention.


Although more commonly associated with rabbits, rats can also transmit tularemia, a serious infectious disease caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis. Humans can contract tularemia through various routes, including handling infected animals, being bitten by infected insects, or exposure to contaminated environments. Symptoms range from fever and skin ulcers to pneumonia, depending on the mode of transmission, making prompt and accurate diagnosis vital. Treatment typically involves antibiotics such as streptomycin or gentamicin.

To prevent tularemia, individuals should use insect repellent, wear gloves when handling potentially infected animals, and avoid disturbing contaminated soil. These precautions are particularly important for those in frequent contact with wild rodents or their habitats.


The plague, while rare in modern times, is historically one of the most devastating diseases linked to rats. It is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is typically spread by fleas that have fed on infected rodents. There are different forms of the plague, including bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic, each with varying symptoms and degrees of severity. The bubonic plague is the most common form, characterized by swollen lymph nodes, fever, and chills. Although modern antibiotics are effective against the plague, it remains a serious health concern in areas where rat populations are not controlled.

The Role of Rat Urine and Feces in Disease Transmission

Rat urine and feces are primary vectors for the transmission of many diseases. When these waste products come into contact with food surfaces or water supplies, they can contaminate them with pathogens. This is why proper sanitation and pest control are essential in preventing the spread of rat-borne diseases.

The Health Risks of Rat Exposure: Disease Transmission and Physical Dangers

Coming into contact with rats, whether directly through a bite or indirectly through their waste, poses significant health risks. It’s important to be aware of both the disease risks and the physical dangers that rats present to better assess the likelihood and severity of these risks.

Direct Contact with Rats

Direct contact with rats, such as touching dead rats or being bitten or scratched by a live one, can lead to immediate physical injuries as well as the transmission of diseases like rat-bite fever. Rat bites can also result in secondary infections if not properly treated.

Indirect Contact and Disease Risks

Indirect contact, such as encountering rat urine or feces, can lead to diseases like leptospirosis. It’s also possible to contract diseases when handling items or surfaces contaminated with rat droppings, urine, or nesting materials.

Physical Dangers Posed by Rats

Apart from diseases, rats can cause physical harm through bites and scratches, which can be particularly dangerous for children and pets. Moreover, rats have strong teeth that can chew through materials like wood and electrical wiring, potentially causing fire hazards in homes and buildings.

Assessing the Risks

The risks associated with rat exposure are real and can have serious implications for health and safety. It’s crucial to take proactive measures to prevent rat infestations and to deal promptly and effectively with any encounters with these pests.

Rat-Borne Diseases: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Symptoms of Common Rat-Borne Diseases

Identifying the symptoms of rat-borne diseases is the first step in seeking timely medical intervention. Common symptoms can range from mild, flu-like signs to more severe and specific manifestations depending on the disease.

  • Leptospirosis: High fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice, red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or rash.
  • Rat-Bite Fever: Fever, muscle ache, vomiting, joint pain, rash, or headaches.
  • Hantavirus: Fatigue, fever, muscle aches, headaches, dizziness, chills, and abdominal problems. It can escalate to severe respiratory distress.

What Does Rat Poop Look Like?

Rat droppings are dark brown, spindle-shaped, and about 12 to 18 millimeters in length with blunt or rounded ends. Rat poop tends to be larger than mouse droppings and can often be found concentrated in areas where rats frequent or feed, providing a telltale sign of an infestation. Proper caution and hygiene should be practiced when dealing with rat feces due to potential health risks.

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