Rats can carry Covid, new study reveals

Researchers found New York subway rats had been exposed to Covid-19

Maryam Zakir-Hussain
Thursday 09 March 2023 16:17 GMT
Rats can carry Covid, new study reveals
Rats can carry Covid, new study reveals (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Rats can be infected with the Alpha, Delta and Omicron variants of Covid-19, a study has found.

Research published in the American Society for Microbiology found wild rats in New York city have been exposed to the virus.

The US Department of Agriculture and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service tested samples from 79 Norway rats to look for evidence of Covid-19 infection.

They found that there was a possible link to the viruses that were spreading among humans during the early stages of the pandemic.

The rats were mostly trapped in city parks in Brooklyn, but some were captured near buildings.

Out of 79 rats, 13 tested positive for Covid-19.

The researchers found that Alpha, Delta and Omicron variants can cause infection in rats, including “high replication levels in the upper and lower respiratory tracts and induction of both innate and adaptive immune responses”.

Dr Henry Wan, a professor and director of the Center for Influenza and Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Missouri, said: “To the best of our knowledge, this is one of the first studies to show SARS-CoV-2 variants can cause infections in the wild rat populations in a major US urban area.”

Rats are able to carry the Covid-19 virus, the study found (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

He added: “Our findings highlight the need for further monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 in rat populations for potential secondary zoonotic transmission to humans.

“Overall, our work in this space shows that animals can play a role in pandemics that impact humans, and it’s important that we continue to increase our understanding so we can protect both human and animal health.”

In New York, there are approximately eight million wild rats.

Two previous studies in Hong Kong and Belgium had been conducted which showed that rats were exposed to Covid-19, but it is not known which variants the rats were exposed to in both studies.

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