Deadly Infections From Rat Pee Increasing to Record Levels in New York City

By: Stephanie Bontorin | Published: Apr 21, 2024

A new life threatening illness has been spreading through the streets of New York City. The culprit is an unhygienic staple of the city.

In the past year, 24 people have been infected by leptospirosis through deadly rat pee. This all time high spread of the bacterial infection has city officials concerned for the health of the city.

What Rat Pee Has To Do With It

The illness is currently being spread through rats who shed the bacteria through their urine. The process is beneficial for the rats who can get rid of the illness easily.

A rat sits next to a subway rail

Source: Wikipedia Commons

However, once contracted in humans, leptospirosis can be incredibly deadly.

Symptoms of Leptospirosis

The illness comes with a variety of symptoms that are incredibly concerning to public health.

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The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reports that symptoms related to the illness might accompany fever, headache, chills, vomiting, diarrhea, red eyes, and jaundice.

Prevention of the Illness

One of the easiest ways to protect yourself from the illness is to stay away from rat infested areas.

A closeup shot of the gutter in NYC while kid run past it and the city can be seen in the background

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For New Yorkers, avoiding rats can be a difficult task as they seem to occupy every corner of the city. High traffic areas, such as the subway and alleyways can be the easiest places to avoid.

New York Officials Are Suggesting Outdoor Only Clothes

While it’s already common knowledge that wearing outside shoes into your house can track diseases and viruses, New York officials are now suggesting that people also strip down from their outside clothes once inside.

A person wearing a dark backpack stands next to a moving train

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Just as shoes can bring in bacteria, jackets and pants are also known to be carriers of germs.

New York City Losing Its Battle With Rats

In recent years, New York has attempted to combat the ever-increasing rat population.

A brown dog with pointy ears and a short coat hunts a rat underneath a car

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Traps, culling, and poison have all been put to use to quell the almost 3 million rodents living inside of the city.


Mayor Eric Adams Has Created a New Initiative

Although the population has been steadily growing since 2010, Mayor Eric Adams think that he will be able to squash the population once and for all.

Mayor Eric Adams stands with a group of people at a ribbon cutting ceremony surrounded by blue and white balloons

Source: @NYCMayor/X

As outrageous as it might sound, the city of New York has implemented rat birth control. Distributed in rat infested areas in the form of food pellets, rat birth control will attempt to sterilize female rats from reproducing.


The Illness Thrives During Warm Temperatures

The disease itself is said to be incredibly “fragile” by the NYC health department. It can’t survive in exceedingly cold or hot temperatures.

A small grey and white rat looks out from a cardboard box

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However, during fall and spring, the temps are just right for the virus to thrive and pass from the ground onto travelers clothing. Most cases present between June and October.


City Officials Are Warning the Public

In a health advisory sent throughout the city last week, officials advised both health officials and the public to remain aware of the symptoms.

A rat drinks the remnants out of a coffee cup next to a curb

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When treated early, the disease poses less of a risk to the public. Mild to moderate symptoms can be treated with common oral antibiotics to quell the illness.


Exceedingly Long Infection Timeline

The mildest symptoms, such as red eyes and fever, can present anywhere between 5 and 14 days after exposure.

Two women wear masks while working together on laptops

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The worst symptoms are said to take as long as 30 days to present in the host. Unfortunately, a person could be ill and spread the disease for as long as a month before seeking treatment.


Men More Likely To Contract the Illness Than Women

Out of 98 cases presented between 2021 and 2023, 94% were men between 20 to 80 years old.

A man wearing black uses a circular saw on a piece of wood

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Six of those people had a fatal case. It’s unknown why men get leptospirosis more often than women. However, some officials speculate that the illness occurs most often in people working in areas infected by rats, such as construction in subway stations and sanitation workers.


New York Isn't the Only City Affected

In recent years, the Netherlands reported a fatal case of the illness after a young man fell into a canal contaminated with rat urine.

A view of a large canal filled with boats next to large apartment buildings

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Anyone can contract the illness at any time. Although transmission rates throughout humans remain low, the illness still needs to be taken seriously and treated as soon as possible.