The threat rats pose to the health of poultry and humans has been underestimated. Rats can absorb disease agents from their local environment and spread them, says a study conducted by the University of British Columbia.
Researchers studied the feces of rats caught at an Abbotsford, B.C. poultry farm and discovered they all carried avian pathogenic E. coli, a bacteria with the ability to cause disease in chickens and potentially humans.
‘Rats act as a pathogen sponge. They can absorb bacteria from the environment and carry a multidrug-resistant strains of the bacteria.
More than one quarter of the rats were carrying multidrug resistant strains of the bacteria. The findings support lead author Chelsea Himsworth's theory that rats act as a pathogen sponge soaking up bacteria from their environment.
Himsworth said that if rats can absorb pathogenic E. coli, then they could potentially be a source of all sorts of other pathogens that we have not anticipated.
Himsworth was surprised to find that the E. coli strains carried by the farm rats were very similar to those found in chickens and totally different from E. coli strains found in urban rats.
She said that rat infestations ought to be taken seriously. They need to be tackled with an educated, informed approach in collaboration with scientists and pest control professionals.
The research is published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases.