By Alice Clifford

Rats can carry COVID-19, a new study reveals.

The rodents are susceptible to infection from the Alpha, Delta and Omicron variants.

A person holding a mouse. Rodents are suspected to have carried COVID-19 as answers are in question. FREESTOCKS/SWNS TALKER

Previous studies have discovered rats in Hong Kong and Belgium carrying the virus as they roamed the streets.

Now, scientists have found that rats in the sewer systems and streets of New York City have also been exposed.

Biologists collected samples from 79 rats in the city. After running various tests, they found that 13, or just under 17 percent, tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Henry Wan, a professor and director of the Center for Influenza and Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Missouri, said: “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.”

Rats are widely distributed in urban communities. In New York City alone there are around eight million wild rats who can easily interact with humans.

Co-author Dr. Tom DeLiberto, SARS-CoV-2 Coordinator at USDA APHIS Wildlife Services, said: “In Fall of 2021, US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service sampled Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) in New York City to look for evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Fixation of a raton February 23, 2011, in Munich, Germany. Rats are widely distributed in urban communities as they carry diseases. AGENCY-ANIMAL-PICTURE/SWNS TALKER

“Two trapping efforts were conducted during September and November with permission from the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation in and around locations surrounding wastewater systems.

“Most of the rats were trapped in city parks within Brooklyn, although some were captured near buildings outside of park boundaries.”

Wan 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.”

The rats exposed to SARS-CoV-2 showed a possible link to the viruses that were circulating in humans during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The team then conducted a virus challenge study and showed that Alpha, Delta and Omicron variants can all cause infections in rats.

There was a high replication levels in the upper and lower respiratory tracts and in immune responses, though susceptibility to infection depended on the variant.

Wan added: “Our findings highlight the need for further monitoring of SARS-CoV-2 in rat populations to determine if the virus is circulating in the animals and evolving into new strains that could pose a risk to humans.

“SARS-CoV-2 virus presents a typical one-health challenge which requires collaborative, multisectoral and transdisciplinary approaches to fully understand such challenges.”

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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