Published time: October 19, 2014
A new study has found that New York City’s rats are hosts to at least 18 new viruses, never before encountered and unknown to science. There is a risk of a “a public health nightmare.”
The research was conducted by a team from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, who analyzed viruses in Manhattan rats.
“Everybody’s looking all over the world, in all sorts of exotic places, including us. But nobody’s looking right under our noses,” Ian Lipkin, a professor of neurology and pathology at Columbia, told the New York Times.
The initial report was published in mBio magazine on Tuesday and focused on 133 rats scientists had analyzed that had demonstrated a variety of pathogens. Some of them transmit food-borne diseases, and some, like Seoul Hantavirus, have never been seen in New York before. Finally, there are at least 18 completely new pathogens to science.
Two pathogens are similar to one that causes Hepatitis C and could help the researchers fight the disease.
“We … identified a wide range of known and novel viruses from groups that contain important human pathogens,” the researchers said in their study.
“Rats are sentinels for human disease. They’re all over the city; uptown, downtown, underground. Everywhere they go, they collect microbes and amplify them. And because these animals live close to people, there is ample opportunity for exchange,” Lipkin said.