Six Rodent-Borne Diseases

Rat-borne diseases are transmitted in a number of different ways. These include:

  • Rat Bites
  • Rat scratches
  • Rat saliva
  • Consuming food or beverages contaminated with rat droppings or urine
  • Touching rat droppings or urine
  • Inhaling dust from dried rat droppings or urine

With these different means of transmission, there are a number of diseases that can be transmitted by rats.


One of the more common diseases caused by rats is salmonella. Salmonella typically is conveyed to humans when rat feces and urine somehow contaminate food items.

Generally, salmonella does not result in death. With that said, there are instances in which salmonella does result in death – but, those cases are not commonplace.

Salmonella can result in a person become quite ill. Oftentimes, a person who becomes ill because of salmonella is said to have food poisoning.


Hantavirus is a very serious rat-borne disease. Hantavirus was first recognized in the United States in 1993. During the first 10 years after the initial identification of hantavirus in the country, 600 people were diagnosed with hantavirus. More than 200 of these people died.

Infection by hantavirus can result in what is known as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. The syndrome results in death more than 30 percent of the time.

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome results in the hemorrhaging of capillaries in the lungs. This results in blood pouring into the lungs.

There is no specific course of treatment for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. In about six out of ten cases, the bleeding spontaneously stops and a person recovers. In three out of 10 cases, a patient dies.

At the onset of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, a patient is placed in a hospital ICU. A patient is placed on a ventilator.

Hantavirus typically is transmitted from rat to human through rat droppings and urine. Oftentimes, the transmission occurs via dried rat droppings. Dried rat droppings easily crumble. When that occurs, droppings in the form of dust becomes airborne. If the dust is contaminated with hantavirus, a person can end up inhaling the virus. He or she can end up infected with the hantavirus.

Rat Bite Fever

As the moniker suggests, rat bite fever can be conveyed via a rat bite. With that noted, this is not the only way in which a person can become infected with rat bite fever. Rat Bite fever can also be conveyed via contact with a dead rat or with rat droppings or urine. Rat-bite fever is caused by bacteria.

Rat bite fever is a treatable condition. Even without treatment, rat bite fever usually resolves on its own. Since the advent of antibiotics, the odds of someone dying from rat bite fever is almost nonexistent.

A person afflicted with rat bite fever can endure:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Muscle ache
  • Rashes (on the skin at the initial point of contact)


Leptospirosis is bacteria that can be transmitted from rats to humans. Leptospirosis can result in a personal experience no symptoms or very mild ones. On the other hand, the bacteria can cause severe bleeding from the lungs or meningitis. Leptospirosis can also cause kidney failure in a small number of cases. Death from Leptospirosis infection is possible, but not a likely consequence of this type of infection.

Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis

Lymphocytic choriomeningitis is another viral infection caused by rats. The virus is transmitted by rat saliva or urine.

Some cases of lymphocytic choriomeningitis result in mild discomfort for a fairly short period of time. In other cases, problems persist over a longer term and are bit more severe. 

A serious consequence of lymphocytic choriomeningitis is that it can pass from mother to child during childbirth. In such a situation, the child is likely to face dealing with lymphocytic choriomeningitis for a longer period of time.

Black Plague

Historically, one of the most horrific diseases caused by rats was what was known as the Black Plague. The Black Plague, or bubonic plague, is a bacterial infection. The plague is transmitted by fleas that are carried on rats. The fleas bite a human, which transmits the bacteria.

In the Middle Ages, the Black Plague resulted in the deaths of millions of people. Indeed, some historians calculate half of the population (or perhaps even more) died as a result of the Black Plaque.

The bacteria that caused the Black Plague does exist today. However, the infection rate is low. In addition, with all of the medical advances since the Middle Ages, the Black Plague is a highly treatable medical issue. Unlike hundreds of years ago, the prognosis for surviving the bubonic plague today is very high.