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Urban Rats – Does the City Environment Increase Potential Risks to Human Health?

Rats live in cities around the world, often in close proximity to people. You probably don’t want them as your neighbour, but does the city environment increase potential risks to human health?

“Rats can carry a broad array of pathogens, including those that can be transmitted to people,” says Jamie Rothenburger, a veterinary pathologist and PhD student at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.

Rothenburger is taking a detailed look at individual rats and their urban environment with her adviser, Prof. Claire Jardine, Department of Pathobiology. By learning how their environment affects rats and the zoonotic pathogens they carry, she hopes to better understand potential human health risks.

Rothenburger is analyzing more than 45 environmental variables from detailed data gathered by the Vancouver Rat Project, which looks at environmental features that influence rat infestations.

The variables look at land use, including commercial property versus industrial, and green space versus vacant lots. They also include the type of housing such as single-detached, apartment building, grocery store or restaurant, as well as information on how well each building was maintained — were they in good condition, how much garbage was around them, were there commercial bins or commercial recycling bins? The variables also delve into the green space and its maintenance: Was it tidy or was it overgrown with weeds? And they also look at alleyway maintenance: Was the pavement cracked, did people loiter there and were the alleys used by vehicles?

The proportion of infected rats varied between city blocks in Vancouver, and researchers believe that difference had something to do with their environment. Analyzing environmental factors associated with rat infections could explain why distribution varies in the city and identify areas to mitigate rats or reduce disease risk to people, says Rothenburger.

Read the entire article on the UofG website.