New York, New York! Concrete jungle where dreams are made of, there’s nothing you can’t do! Well, unless you get bit by a street rat. In that case, your dreams might take a backseat to salmonella poisoning or fever. A new study conducted on the city’s rats, shows that the little creatures carry an alarmingly high number of diseases. After a year of researchers collecting 133 rats, what they found isn’t pretty.

Their findings were published in the journal mBio Tuesday under the title “Detection of Zoonotic Pathogens and the Characterization of Novel Viruses Carried by Commensal Rattus norvegicus in New York City.” An excerpt from the journal reads, “We also identified a wide range of known and novel viruses from groups that contain important human pathogens, including sapoviruses, cardioviruses, kobuviruses, parechoviruses, rotaviruses, and hepaciviruses. The two novel hepaciviruses discovered in this study replicate in the liver of Norway rats and may have utility in establishing a small animal model of human hepatitis C virus infection.”

So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that the number of rats in the city almost match that of the number of humans in this densely populated city. New York City rates No. 4 on pest control company Orkin’s “rattiest city” list, topped by Chicago at No. 1, Los Angeles at No. 2 and Washington, D.C.-Hagerstown, Md. at No. 3.

The published journal also cites that although a lot of research has been given to studying animals that carry infectious diseases, there has not been much studies on “commensal animals like rats, despite their abundance in urban centers and close proximity to urban populations.”

“Everybody’s looking all over the world (for viruses and bacteria), in all sorts of exotic places, including us,” Ian Lipkin, a professor of neurology and pathology at Columbia, told the New York Times. “But nobody’s looking right under our noses.”

President of EcoHealth Alliance Peter Daszak called the findings “shocking and surprising.” “This is a recipe for a public health nightmare,” he said.

The silver lining? Yersinia pestis, which causes the bubonic plague, was not found in any of the 133 rats.

By: Cheri Cola