Rat-Related Health Hazards & Diseases

Updated February 21, 2017

Many pests such as rats exist in homes and vacant buildings, especially in deserted or less travelled areas. Not only does their presence give the impression of filth and health hazards, but rats are also the cause of many diseases. One of the greatest catastrophes of the Middle Ages was the bubonic plague, or Black Death. The plaque was carried by fleas on rats that were brought to port towns by stowing away on ships. The rats then spread the fleas that they carried throughout the towns and on into the countryside. The disease killed millions. Today, rat control is an important health concern due to other diseases that are carried by rats and their droppings. Some of these can be serious or even fatal. While the bubonic plague has been essentially eradicated from the planet, rats still present a health hazard and spread disease. Protect yourself and your family by keeping your home rat free and be guarded when visiting areas that may have a colony of rats roaming the grounds.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)

HPS is one of the most potentially deadly of the diseases transmitted by rats. Humans contract HPS by breathing aerosolized waste products of mice, such as urine, faeces or their saliva. These body fluids and waste products contain the virus and when aerosolized can be breathed in by humans. Since 1993, HPS has been discovered in the United States. The main way of fighting against HPS is rodent control in and around homes and businesses.

Rat Bite Fever

A systemic bacterial infection can be acquired by the bite of an infected rat or by the scratch from one of its claws. An alternate source of this disease is by eating food or drinking water that has been contaminated with rat droppings. The bacterial infection is based on Streptobacillus. It is usually not fatal and can be treated by antibiotics.

Murine Typhus

Flea-infested rats transmit this disease by the fleas moving from rats to humans. This is primarily a problem in tropical humid environments but is also a problem in the summer months in more temperate climates. The symptoms include a high fever, chills, cough, rashes and joint pain. The treatment for typhus is tetracycline. The disease may progress to pneumonia in some cases.


The infection is generally not fatal but does present more risk in immunocompromised individuals. The symptoms include nausea, diarrhoea, abdominal cramping and vomiting. The episode may last up to 7 days before it passes.


This is a more serious disease and if infected, a human can experience kidney damage, respiratory distress, liver failure and meningitis. It is only rarely fatal. It is a bacterial infection that may cause fever, chills, severe headache, cramps, diarrhoea, muscle aches and in some cases jaundice.

Eosinophilic Meningitis

Meningitis is an infection that involves the brain. The infection is contracted through contact with lungworm of rats. The worms are excreted from the rat and when they are exposed to human skin, they bore through it and travel throughout the body. The infection that they cause is selectively in the brain of the host.

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About the Author

Alexis Writing has many years of freelance writing experience. She has written for a variety of online destinations, including She holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication from the University of Rochester.