(Photo: Getty Images)
The latest plague to descend upon the people of New York City is one of Bubonic proportions. (Photo: Getty Images)
Researchers from Cornell University released a new study in the Journal of Medical Entomology documenting the kinds of fleas, lice and mites found on New York City rats. They collected over 6500 specimens from 133 rats and found among them more than 500 Oriental rat fleas, the very vermin made infamous for their role in transmitting the Bubonic Plague (you might remember it from high school history by its nickname, the Black Death) throughout Europe in the 14th century.
“If these rats carry fleas that could transmit the plague to people, then the pathogen itself is the only piece missing from the transmission cycle,” says Matthew Frye, PhD, an urban entomologist with Cornell’s New York State Integrated Pest Management Program.
Rest assured, however, that it isn’t just the Bubonic plague New Yorkers need to worry about: These same Oriental rat fleas can also transmit Rickettsia (which was not found in any of the collected specimens) and Bartonella.
New York City officials will be closely monitoring the city’s rat population to see if any dangerous pathogens are being actively transmitted via fleas. Frye also says regular citizens can get in on the act by “removing food and water and preventing access to shelter” for the offending rodents — in other words, don’t be afraid to call the exterminator next time you see something furry scurry across the floor and tell the loud frat boys next door to stop abandoning last night’s pizza crusts in the halls.
“It’s not that these parasites can infest our bodies,” Frye says, “but they can feed on us while seeking other rats to infest.” Fun!
So in conclusion: You’re probably ok for now but we won’t judge you, New Yorkers, if you spend the rest of the year in a hazmat suit.