Epidemiology and Infection

Research Article

A survey of zoonotic pathogens carried by Norway rats in Baltimore, Maryland, USA

J. D. EASTERBROOKa1 c1, J. B. KAPLANa1, N. B. VANASCOa3, W. K. REEVESa4, R. H. PURCELLa5, M. Y. KOSOYa6, G. E. GLASSa1, J. WATSONa2 and S. L. KLEINa1

a1 The W. Harry Feinstone Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA

a2 Department of Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD, USA

a3 Instituto Nacional de Enfermedades Respiratorias (INER) ‘E. Coni’, Administración Nacional de Laboratorios e Institutos de Salud (ANLIS), Blas Parera 8260, Santa Fe, Argentina

a4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, USA

a5 Hepatitis Viruses Section, Laboratory of Infectious Diseases, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA

a6 Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fort Collins, CO, USA

SUMMARY

Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) carry several zoonotic pathogens and because rats and humans live in close proximity in urban environments, there exists potential for transmission. To identify zoonotic agents carried by rats in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, we live-trapped 201 rats during 2005–2006 and screened them for a panel of viruses, bacteria, and parasites. Antibodies against Seoul virus (57·7%), hepatitis E virus (HEV, 73·5%), Leptospira interrogans (65·3%), Bartonella elizabethae (34·1%), and Rickettsia typhi (7·0%) were detected in Norway rats. Endoparasites, including Calodium hepatica (87·9%) and Hymenolepis sp. (34·4%), and ectoparasites (13·9%, primarily Laelaps echidninus) also were present. The risk of human exposure to these pathogens is a significant public health concern. Because these pathogens cause non-specific and often self-limiting symptoms in humans, infection in human populations is probably underdiagnosed.

(Accepted November 09 2006)

(Online publication January 15 2007)

Correspondence:

c1 Author for correspondence: J. D. Easterbrook, The W. Harry Feinstone Department of Microbiology and Immunology, The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA. (Email: jeasterb@jhsph.edu)

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