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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Canada : Vancouver rats carry disease that can infect humans

Article via The Vancouver Sun :

" A groundbreaking study shows some rats in the Downtown Eastside are carrying a bacterial disease that can infect humans and, in severe cases, lead to kidney failure, bleeding in the lungs and meningitis.

The first results from the study, published Thursday in the journal PLoS ONE, found rats trapped over the course of one year tested positive for leptospirosis, a disease that mostly causes flu-like symptoms in humans and is commonly found in developing countries.

The results are the first definitive findings to come out of the Vancouver Rat Project, a three-year study helmed by Abbotsford-based researcher Dr. Chelsea Himsworth that aims to fill a knowledge gap about the characteristics of local rats, the pathogens they carry and the potential crossover to humans.

“There’s never been a comprehensive study of rats on any subject in Canada. Ever,” explains Himsworth, a veterinarian completing her PhD through the University of B.C.’s school of population and public health.

With a specialty in neglected zoonotic risks —diseases that spread from animals to humans — in urban centres, Himsworth embarked on the Vancouver Rat Project in 2011 to fill what she sees as a blind spot in the scientific research community.

“It really fascinates me that when you actually look into the scientific literature, we know a lot more about elephants and whales and grizzly bears than we do about rats,” she says.

Himsworth attributes that fact to the failure of the parasitic rodents to capture our collective imagination, in spite, or perhaps because of, their proximity to us."

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