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Similar to other rodents, brown rats may carry a number of pathogens, which can result in disease, including Weil’s disease, rat bite fever, cryptosporidiosis, viral hemorrhagic fever, Q fever and hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. In the United Kingdom, brown rats are an important reservoir for Coxiella burnetii, the bacterium that causes Q fever, with seroprevalence for the bacteria found to be as high as 53% in some wild populations.
This species can also serve as a reservoir for Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, though the disease usually spreads from rats to humans when domestic cats feed on infected brown rats. The parasite has a long history with the brown rat, and there are indications that the parasite has evolved to alter an infected rat’s perception to cat predation, making it more susceptible to predation and increasing the likelihood of transmission.
Surveys and specimens of brown rat populations throughout the world have shown this species is often associated with outbreaks of trichinosis, but the extent to which the brown rat is responsible in transmitting Trichinella larvae to humans and other synanthropic animals is at least somewhat debatable. Trichinella pseudospiralis, a parasite previously not considered to be a potential pathogen in humans or domestic animals, has been found to be pathogenic in humans and carried by brown rats.
Brown rats are sometimes mistakenly thought to be a major reservoir of bubonic plague, a possible cause of the Black Death. However, the bacterium responsible, Yersinia pestis, is commonly endemic in only a few rodent species and is usually transmitted zoonotically by rat fleas—common carrier rodents today include ground squirrels and wood rats. However, brown rats may suffer from plague, as can many nonrodent species, including dogs, cats, and humans. The original carrier for the plague-infected fleas thought to be responsible for the Black Death was the black rat, and it has been hypothesized that the displacement of black rats by brown rats led to the decline of bubonic plague. This theory has, however, been deprecated, as the dates of these displacements do not match the increases and decreases in plague outbreaks.
Michael Novakhov – SharedNewsLinks℠