United States: In accordance with the officials at the New York City health department, there is a sharp rise in the reports of rare sickness which is caused due to rat urine. 

As per the latest news, evidently, the most vulnerable are the rubbish collectors who collect trash from the city and are mostly at risk of being infected because of their jobs. 

Consequently, the workers get leptospirosis – the condition brought about by contamination of the human body by the rat’s urine – in more quantity than other people, a media report in the USA Today states. 

Rising disease cases reported in New York City  

Celia Quinn, New York City’s capital health commissioner of disease control, confirmed that more than 24 cases were reported in 2023, the highest number ever recorded. As of June, only six cases had been reported up to April 10th. 

From 2001 to the end of 2023, the health department investigated 98 reported cases in NYC, with 25 percent of those reports occurring in 2023. 

Surge in Rat-Transmitted Disease Hits NYC, Sanitation Workers Hit Hardest. Credit | Getty images
Surge in Rat-Transmitted Disease Hits NYC, Sanitation Workers Hit Hardest. Credit | Getty images

According to USA Today, Mayor Eric Adams was appointed as the city’s first “rat czar” in April 2023. His role is to reduce the pest population and improve street cleanliness by exploring new methods of trash collection. 

Efforts by officials to eliminate the disease 

Additionally, the City Council is considering ordinances to reduce the rat population, including a birth control program. 

In 2024, Nespoli of the sanitation workers union reported that six sanitation workers were infected with the disease. Five of the 24 cases in 2023 occurred among sanitation workers. 

The sanitation department is taking steps to contain the disease. Vincent Gragnani, a spokesperson for the department, stated that they are continuously educating workers on how to prevent leptospirosis. According to guidelines, workers are urged to wear gloves to prevent contact with rat urine, among other precautions. 

Gragnani also mentioned that as the city moves more trash into containers, sanitation workers will have less direct contact with trash bags. 

Success has been seen in reducing rat sightings after trash was placed into containers. According to officials, rat sightings have decreased by 6.3 percent citywide and 14.3 percent in rat mitigation zones. 

Surge in Rat-Transmitted Disease Hits NYC, Sanitation Workers Hit Hardest. Credit | Shutterstock
Surge in Rat-Transmitted Disease Hits NYC, Sanitation Workers Hit Hardest. Credit | Shutterstock

Health officials have been working with the sanitation department’s medical division on occupational safety and health. They have hosted virtual events to inform workers about leptospirosis and other health risks

About the leptospirosis disease 

In its notice last week, the health department said the causative bacteria behind leptospirosis illness is also found in infected animals’ urine. 

It is mostly transmitted through the contamination of the skin, oral mucosal membranes or eyes with infected water or soil, followed with swallowing or by entering the nasal passage. 

In New York, together with this bacterium, “NR rough Leuvarik,” Norwegian rat is the main factor. This breed is first a large brown rat. 

The specific bacteria found in New York City is similar to the Norwegian rat, a large brown rat breed found generally rushing through the city’s trash, streets, subways, basements, and sewage. 

According to studies, the transmission of the disease to other people is not common. Health authorities reported that sickness is most likely to become ill if a person is in contact with dirty spots where rats have urinated. This most probably would happen when a person is handling the trash bag. 

Leptospirosis symptoms 

The incubation period for the disease can range from five to fourteen days or two days to one month; in some individuals, the disease can show signs for up to two weeks or as long as one month. 

Firstly, the symptoms of individuals suffering from cholera can be vastly different than those mentioned above, namely, fever, headache, diarrhea, jaundice, and rash, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

However, if it remains untreated, it can cause kidney failure, meningitis, liver damage, respiratory distress, and probably death may occur. 

According to an advisory from city health officials, leptospira bacteria are mostly killed in cold or dry conditions. Although the harder rains and the unusually hot conditions, which result from climate change, restrict the duration of their survival, it also leads to the possibility of bacteria’s greater prevalence. 

This is one of the reasons why bacteria manage to live in New York City. Officials credited hotter and wetter climates as the cause for two hotter and intensified events in June and October of 2023, as opposed to 10 of the year’s 24 cases occurring in previous years. 


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