Written by: Stuart Steele
Rats are not always the best conversation around the dinner table, but with the recent outbreak of Listeria strain affecting our country, it’s imperative to be very cautious about this strain, with the ST 6 strain causing the unfortunate human fatalities recently. The fact of the matter is that rats can be a carrier of approximately 45 different pathogens dangerous to man, with one of them being Listeria. I’m certain you don’t want rodents in your home or building, but here is an overview of five of the worst diseases and their symptoms that rats could carry.
PLEASE NOTE The Below information is not intended for use as diagnosis or healthcare advice as we are not medical specialists or Doctors. Anyone showing signs of any of the following symptoms should seek advice from their GP or hospital without delay.
The strain of Listeria most commonly related to infection in humans and has also been found to be carried by rodents is L. monocytogenes.
Listeria has been found in a large number of rodent population in other parts of the world, and not just limited in South Africa.
To reduce the risk of containment or infection- correct food treatment such as pasteurisation of dairy products and stringent hygiene controls practices must be followed. The infection has been found to be present in uncooked meats, vegetables, some fruits and soft cheeses, and notably, in South Africa, the source of the infection is emanating from uncooked meats such as polonies, cold meats and sausages etc
Listeria has also made headlines in Australia recently too, with findings of this disease in some of their rock melons- what we would call spanspek in South Africa.
If one contracts Listeria, the infection is called listeriosis and in its non-invasive form has very similar symptoms to salmonellosis- which takes up to a month of contracting the infection for symptoms to appear. However, the invasive strain can be extremely dangerous because the bacteria spreading to the bloodstream and central nervous system; almost always necessitates intensive antibiotic care in a hospital.
This is an infectious disease caused by a type of bacteria called a spirochete. It can be transmitted by many animals such as rats and other vermin, cattle, pigs, horses, dogs and various wild animals. The disease is transmitted through contact with infected soil or water. The soil or water is contaminated with the waste products of an infected animal. People contract the disease by either ingesting contaminated food or water or by broken skin (cuts etc.) and the mucous membranes (eyes, nose, sinuses, mouth)
Rodent urine and contaminated soil are the most common sources of this bacteria. The early symptoms of Leptospirosis are often flu-like with high fever, chills, severe headache, muscle ache and vomiting. With these symptoms, an infection is often misdiagnosed. Symptoms appear after an initial incubation period of 4-14 days and in the most severe form of the disease, Weil’s disease, those infected can develop meningitis, extreme fatigue, hearing loss and respiratory problems.
Veterinarians, pet shop owners, sewage workers, and farm employees are at particularly high risk. People participating in outdoor sporting activities like canoeing, rafting, hiking, fishing, swimming in open water and camping can also come into contact with contaminated water or soil and are at high risk.
Salmonella is generally known as a type of food poisoning, although it is, in fact, the name of the group of bacteria that actually cause it. Salmonellosis is the disease caused by eating food that is raw, under-cooked or in many cases too frequently re-heated. There are three main strains of Salmonella bacteria found that is carried by rats and transferred to food and are S. enteriditis, S. typhimurion and S. dublin.
People who contract Salmonellosis usually develop symptoms between 12 and 72 hours after infection and these symptoms are generally fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. In most cases, patients recover without treatment, but after a period ranging between four to seven days from the onset of symptoms, it is, therefore, a serious illness for certain people such as babies, toddlers, the elderly and people with weak or impaired immune systems may require further medical treatment or even hospitalization. The replenishment of the electrolyte balance and being effectively hydrated is the best way of getting through the unpleasant period of illness.
E.Coli or Escherichia Coli
When one thinks of E Coli- it’s often commonly associated with infected or contaminated water and food- which is true. The most important strain of this in humans is E.Coli 0157. This strain is the most prevalent of foodborne illness with symptoms ranging from nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhoea. Occasionally infection can lead to more serious complications such as kidney failure and anaemia with children being in the highest risk group.
A lot of the infections encountered are transmitted by people not adhering to good basic hygiene practices of washing hands and surfaces they eat or prepare food one. However a large portion of rat populations are infected with E.Coli due to areas they frequent and pass this nasty virus on with their feeding and the way they enter establishments and cross contaminate various items and foodstuffs, and many reported cases of infection can be directly related to rodents transferring the disease.
This disease is much less commonly known or encountered with rodents, but Hantavirus is also dangerous and is not to be taken lightly. Early symptoms of contracting the disease are flu-like and can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome, kidney failure, low blood pressure and low blood oxygen levels, and thus giving the victim a blue type tinge to their skin tone.
The most widely known source of hantavirus is generally from the dust off of dry rodent droppings. Exposure to the disease comes from activities such as cleaning an enclosed area such as a garage, ceiling, store room or a house that has been vacant for a long period of time, and the cleaning process can result in a person inhaling the disease resulting in a person falling ill.