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New York City is struck by an outbreak of a rare disease caused by bacteria found in RAT URINE


New York City is struck by an outbreak of a rare disease caused by bacteria found in RAT URINE that is linked to 15 cases and one death

  • At least 15 cases of leptospirosis and one death have been found reported in New York City, likely due to residents coming in contact with rat urine
  • Almost all of the cases in the city have been among people in situations that leave them vulnerable to coming in contact with rat infestations
  • Leptospirosis is rare in the U.S., with around 200 cases detected every year, but infects around one million people globally and causes nearly 60,000 deaths 
  • In the 15 years from 2006 to 2020, 57 cases were detected in New York City
  • Experts believe the rise in cases could be tied to the warmer temperatures and changing climate in the city 


A rare disease has struck New York City – and rat urine appears to be responsible for it.

At least 15 cases of Weil’s disease, or leptospirosis, have been reported in the Big Apple this year as well as one death.

Only 57 cases of the disease were detected in New York from 2006 to 2020, meaning 2021 alone already accounts for more than 25 percent of the total over the previous decade and a half. 

The disease is spread from animals to humans, and it is likely that humans are picking up the virus from infected rat urine.

Why exactly the outbreak is occurring this year is not known, though some experts believe the rise in temperatures and other climate-related factors could be playing a role.

Leptospirosis is a rare condition caused by bacteria transferred from animals to humans when they interact with infected urine. It infects around one million people globally every year, and causes nearly 60,000 deaths. Pictured: Kidney tissue infected with the bacteria leprospira

At least 15 cases of leptospirosis have been detected in New York City, and the city's many rat infestations are likely the cause. Bacteria that causes the disease can be transferred to humans via interaction with rat urine, Pictured: A rat in New York City, date unknown

At least 15 cases of leptospirosis have been detected in New York City, and the city’s many rat infestations are likely the cause. Bacteria that causes the disease can be transferred to humans via interaction with rat urine, Pictured: A rat in New York City, date unknown 

Weil’s disease is a bacterial disease spread through the urine of infected animals.

A person can become infected when they come in contact with the infected animal urine through food or water. 

Animals that can transfer the disease to humans include cows, pigs, horses dogs and rodents – like rats – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Symptoms can appear abruptly from two days to four weeks after a person is exposed to the bacteria, and often include fever, headache, chills, abdominal pain and diarrhea among others. 

Some infected people will even suffer from jaundice, a condition where the skin and eyes of a person turn yellow.

WHAT IS LEPTOSPIROSIS AND HOW DOES IT SPREAD FROM ANIMAL URINE 

  • Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection nicknamed ‘Weil’s disease’ after the German scientist who discovered in in the late 17th century
  • Humans can be infected with the disease after coming into contact with urine from animals like cows, pigs, horses, dogs and rats
  • Disease can occur is two phases, with the first relatively minor wave featuring flu-like symptoms and jaundice among others
  • Second phase is more serious, and can lead to kidney or liver failure, or death
  • Around 100 to 200 cases are reported in the U.S. every year, though a majority are in Puerto Rico, not the mainland
  • NIH study finds that more than one million people are infected and 59,000 die from leptospirosis globally every year 

 Source: CDC & NIH

Symptoms will disappear, but in more serious cases will return for a second, more serious, phase. 

Patients who suffer the second phase could experience kidney or liver failure, meningitis or even death.

A study published by the National Institutes of Health in 2015 estimates that there are over one million cases of the disease globally and 58,900 deaths from it every year. 

However, it is rare in the U.S., with only 100 to 200 reported every year, most occurring in Puerto Rico. 

The New York City Department of Health issued a warning on September 22 about the sudden rise of the disease.

The warning notes that the disease has been detected in four of New York’s five borough – only Staten Island having dodged leptospirosis so far – and 13 of the 14 reported cases at the time resulting in hospitalization.

Health officials identified one case of a person picking up the disease during travel.

The others, however, were each linked to severe rat infestations around the city.

Three of the cases were among homeless people.

Health officials are working to clear out rat infestations around the city to stop the disease from spreading even more.

Why exactly an outbreak of leptospirosis is occurring now can not be determined, but environmental factors may be at play.

The bacteria that causes the virus thrives in warmer temperatures that are becoming more common in the city.

 ‘The bacteria may persist in warm moist environments. Changes in climatic conditions that allow the bacteria to persist (warmer and moist climate conditions), could contribute to an increase in human cases,’ the health department told Gizmodo

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