NYC rats carry Bubonic plague-transmitting fleas - study

Reuters/Krishnendu Halder
New York City’s notoriously massive rat population appears to present a bigger health risk than was thought before. According to a new study, the rodents’ fleas could transmit Bubonic plague.

Scientists from Columbia and Cornell Universities collected 133 Manhattan rats for their research. The animals were euthanized while the insects living on them were killed with a vapor.

Some 6,500 parasites were found in the fur, including the tropical rat mite, the spine rat louse, the spiny rat mite, and oriental rat flea, which was discovered in almost a third of the rats. The Oriental rat flea can carry Bubonic plague.

“However, no evidence of [plague] infection was detected in fleas,” says the study, published in the Journal of Medical Entomology on Monday [], reassures.

The fact that some of the Big Apple’s parasites are able to transmit Bubonic plague is still quite worrisome, as traces of the deadly disease are found on New York subway’s trashcans and handrails, it has recently been revealed.

READ MORE: PathoMap: NY subway shelters bubonic plague, anthrax, 600+ unknown organisms

The scientists who discovered Bubonic plague-carrying fleas, said earlier they had discovered Manhattan rats were hosts to at least 18 new viruses. The finding was then described as “a public health nightmare.”

READ MORE: Rat City! NY vermin carry 18 new viruses – scientists

READ MORE: 47 already dead in Madagascar plague outbreak

Bubonic plague killed an estimated 25 million people in Europe in the Middle Ages. And the disease has not been completely eradicated. Last year’s outbreak in Madagascar killed at least 47 people.

According to the WHO, more than 13,000 cases of plague were reported between 2004 and 2013 – including 896 lethal cases. Africa had the highest number of those (97.6 percent).