Bubonic plague-carrying fleas found on New York City rats

A study published this week looked into the parasites found on New York’s rats

Payton Guion
Tuesday 03 March 2015 22:08

Spend any length of time in New York City and a rat will show its whiskery face or worm-like tail. It could be on the subway tracks or nibbling through the garbage on the side of the street. It could also be carrying the bubonic plague.

Scientists studying rats in New York found the flea that carries the plague - the Oriental rat flea - hosting on some of the city’s rat population, according to the study published Monday in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

Bubonic plague is infamous as one of the most devastating pandemics in world history, known as the Black Death. During the 14th Century, the plague killed between 25 million and 50 million people in Europe.

Before panic ensues, it must be noted that researchers found no trace of the plague or typhus – another disease carried by the Oriental rat flea – in any of the fleas they sampled. Check out the full report here.

The recent rat study was the first time since 1925 that scientists have studied the fleas and mites living on rats in New York City. Researchers did identify bacteria called Bartonella, which causes illness in humans, and other bacteria that can cause dermatitis.

While this study did not turn up any sign of bubonic plague in the fleas living on New York’s rats, bubonic plague has been found in the city. A study published earlier this year found the bacteria that causes the plague at an Uptown subway station. Read more about that study here.

Researchers in the study of the parasites living aboard New York rats recommended that they city try to reduce the rat population before the flea problem becomes worse. For those in the city, be on the lookout for more signs warning of Rodenticide.

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