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Rise in rat population a threat to human health says UBC study

With Vancouver and the Lower Mainland plagued with a scourge of rats, new research from UBC suggests there may be grave consequences if the rodents' risk to human health continues to be underestimated.

UBC researcher says local rats found to carry multi drug-resistant strains of disease

A UBC study suggests rats are a greater risk to human health than previously thought. (Robert Mecea/The Associated Press)

With Vancouver and the Lower Mainland plagued with a scourge of rats, new research from UBC suggests there may be grave consequences if the rodents' risk to human health continues to be underestimated.

The UBC team studied the feces of rats caught at an Abbotsford poultry farm, and discovered that not only was every specimen carrying a strain of avian E.coli, more than a quarter of the vermin carried multi-drug resistant strains of the disease.

The study's lead author, assistant professor Chelsea Himsworth, had already gathered evidence of human pathogens, including MRSA and C.difficile, in the feces of rats on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"[In Abbotsford] we found that indeed rats do carry E.coli, including strains that can be harmful to chickens and be resistant to multiple antibiotics," Himsworth told CBC News.

"Previously, we thought the scope of risk associated with rats was narrow," she said. "And now we're saying ... it's as diverse as what is present in their environment."

She characterizes the rodents as "pathogen sponges", able to absorb diseases from their environment and then spread them.

Himsworth, who also heads the Vancouver Rat Project, wants to see the city tackle the issue in the aggressive manner as that seen in cities such as New York.

She says the findings suggests rats could be able to pick up and transmit more—and more dangerous—infectious diseases, and that the results are proof local municipalities need to develop strong rodent management plans.

With files from Farrah Merali

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