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Human infections from rat urine increasing in New York City

A disease that can be transmitted to people through rat urine — human leptospirosis — saw its highest number of cases in NYC in 2023.
Human infections from rat urine increasing in New York City
Posted at 12:52 PM, Apr 18, 2024

Human infections from rat urine are on the rise in New York City. 

The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene issued a health advisory, saying there were 24 reported cases of human leptospirosis in the city in 2023 — which is the highest number in a single year. 

Human leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease caused by bacteria of the genus Leptospira, according to NYC’s health department. The health department says infected animals — like rats — excrete the bacteria through their urine, which can survive in warm, moist environments for weeks. The disease can be transmitted to people coming in direct contact with the urine — or urine-contaminated soil, water or food. 

So far in 2024, there have been six reported cases of human leptospirosis. 

The average number of cases per year in NYC was about 15 between 2021 and 2023. Before that, the average was three cases per year for the period between 2001 and 2020, demonstrating a significant shift. 

Symptoms of human leptospirosis include high fever, headache, chills, aches, vomiting, jaundice, diarrhea, stomach pain and rash, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Many of the symptoms may be mistaken for something else. 

Leptospirosis may occur in two phases, where a person with symptoms such as a headache, chills and fever may recover and then become ill again, the CDC says. If the person does become sick again, the second phase is usually more severe, where they may develop kidney or liver failure, or meningitis.  

Illness can last from a few days to three weeks. But if left untreated, recovery could take months. 

The disease is treated with antibiotics. 

Should a person develop leptospirosis in NYC, they must report it to the city's health department, per the city’s health code.

Notably, these infections can happen anywhere, and from species other than rats.

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