What Diseases Do Rats Carry?

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Rats aren’t everyone’s favorite animal. Everyone – from homeowners to restaurant owners – considers these furry little pests to be troublesome. And for good reason! Even though they can often look harmless or cute to some, rats can carry illnesses and diseases. They can spread these to both humans and other animals in their vicinity.

Are you worried about rats in your home or business? Do you want to learn more about some of the potential dangers that they bring with them? Here’s a guide that will provide you with more information on what types of rat diseases you need to keep an eye out for if faced with a rat invasion.

Diseases Caused By Rats

You’ve probably heard about some of these diseases more than others. But there are actually quite a few diseases that are a direct consequence of some type of contact with rats.

Unfortunately, these diseases don’t only affect the people in the immediate area, but can potentially harm their pets as well. Here are some of the most notable diseases you may come across.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS)

You’ll sometimes hear this referred to as simply hantavirus, after the virus responsible for it. Rats can spread this disease, but the severity of the symptoms will vary.

Those who have contracted hantavirus will often experience symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and muscular pain or weakness. If you allow this condition to progress, respiratory symptoms will follow. These include a cough and difficulty breathing. HPS can be fatal and there is no universal cure. Seeking immediate medical care (at the onset of early symptoms) can reduce the impact of the infection, though.

Rat-Bite Fever (RBF)

As the name suggests, those who come in contact with rats that carry this disease will often end up feeling feverish. Bacteria are to blame for RBF, rather than a virus.

Symptoms include rashes on the skin, headaches, vomiting, and muscle pain. Fortunately, this disease is not as deadly as HPS, and doctors can use antibiotics to treat it. If not caught early, however, it can be fatal.


People who hear the name of this disease often think, “Isn’t Salmonella that bacteria that you can get from food?” It is! Unfortunately, Salmonella is something that a rat can expose you to as well.

Salmonellosis caused by rats produces the same symptoms that you’d expect to see if you were exposed to the bacteria in food. These symptoms include abdominal cramps, fever, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. Severe cases may require antibiotics, but most infected people only need to drink plenty of fluids.


Although the name might seem a little scary, tularemia isn’t a huge problem for those who contract it.

While it’s easy to get if you don’t take the right precautions, fever is the most common symptom. This fever can be dangerous if left untreated, but the disease is easily cured with antibiotics. Tularemia is yet another disease that only requires antibiotics.


It’s unfortunate, but the same plague that was responsible for killing millions of people in Europe and other countries is alive and well today. While the plague is generally perceived to be one singular illness, it actually comes in several forms: bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic.

Symptoms include dangerous health complications such as swollen lymph nodes, difficulty breathing, and necrosis of the skin. This disease is typically carried by fleas on rats, but infected people can also spread the pneumonic plague. You must seek immediate medical help with antibiotics to make sure that this disease doesn’t become fatal.

Lymphocytic Choriomeningitis (LCM)

The lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV for short) causes lymphocytic choriomeningitis. Those who have LCM experience flu-like symptoms first, including vomiting, nausea, muscle aches, headaches, and loss of appetite.

After recovering from these initial symptoms, LCM manifests as neurological symptoms, including encephalitis, meningitis, and meningoencephalitis. It’s important to seek medical help as soon as possible with this type of disease. Neurological manifestations will require hospitalization. Doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to lessen the severity of the disease.

Angiostrongylus cantonensis

Better known as rat lungworm, this parasite lives in the lungs of rats, where it reproduces and is passed on through rat feces. Rat lungworms cause disease in humans.

The symptoms are typically the same as for bacterial meningitis, including headaches, tingling throughout the body, and vomiting. Treatment is typically not necessary with this condition. However, some infections can be severe or even deadly.

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Do Rats Carry Rabies?

This is one major question that comes up when reviewing these diseases. While it’s logical to think that rats can carry rabies, most small mammals aren’t known to either carry or transmit this virus to humans or other animals. This is definitely good news considering how many other diseases rats can cause!

This is by no means a comprehensive list that covers every disease that rats can carry. The diseases we’ve listed above are some of the most common ones that people could contract if faced with a rat invasion in their home or place of business. It should only serve to convey the type of rat infestation health risks that exist.

With that, let’s move on to our next question.

How Do Rats Infect Humans?

Not every rat infestation results in infection, but there’s always the potential for one. Why? Because there are certain ways that humans and animals contract diseases.

One way is by touching rat feces or urine, which could lead to contracting HPS, for example. Eating contaminated food could result in salmonellosis. People who breathe in infected air could contract HPS or LCM. A scratch or bite from an infected rat could give you RBF. Improperly handling the corpse of an infected rat could also lead to RBF.

This is why it’s important to be extremely careful when trapping rats or dealing with rats using other control methods. If you can’t control the problem yourself, let the professionals deal with these pests for you.

Rat invasions can certainly be concerning – even more so after learning more about the diseases that they could possibly carry. Not only are these diseases dangerous, but if you don’t know how to safely use rat poison, you also risk accidentally harming yourself, your family, and your pets. The guide above can help educate you on the risks of a rat invasion. If you want to learn more about the best ways to get rid of rats, you can do so in this article.

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