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tien le

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What diseases do rats carry

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Home > Blog >  What diseases do rats carry

Rats have been spotted in approximately 14.8 million housing units throughout the United States!

In addition to spreading dirt and grime around your home and chewing on your belongings, rats can also spread diseases to you, your family, and your pets.

In this guide, you’ll discover the most common diseases rats carry and spread. You’ll also learn how to get rid of rats and prevent them from returning to your home.

gray rat on black background

What diseases do rats carry?

Rodents like rats and mice harbor and spread a wide range of diseases. The following are some of the most well-known conditions they can carry:

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome

Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is caused by exposure to rat droppings or urine.

Early symptoms of HPS include fatigue, fever, and aching muscles (particularly in the thighs, hips, and back). Some people also experience headaches, dizziness, and gastrointestinal discomfort.

In the late stages of HPS (around days 4-10), patients may develop shortness of breath.


Leptospirosis is caused by bacteria known as Leptospira. Rats often carry this bacteria, which can infect humans and animals (including dogs and cats). 

Humans with Leptospirosis may develop high fevers, headaches, chills, and vomiting. Some develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) as well. 

In cats and dogs, Leptospirosis may cause similar symptoms, such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle pain.

Leptospirosis often stems from exposure to soil or water that has been contaminated by infected urine.


Plague is an infection caused by the germ Yersinia pestis. Dogs and cats may become infected with this germ after an infected flea bites them. They then spread the plague to their owners. 

Plague symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, large sores, and swollen lymph nodes. If it’s caught early, this condition can be treated with antibiotics.


Tularemia is a bacterial infection. It’s caused by the bacterium Francisella tularensis, which is most common in wild animals, including rodents like rats and squirrels, that an infected insect has bitten.

Humans and pets can develop tularemia if they come in contact with infected animals, are exposed to contaminated blood, or drink contaminated water. Symptoms of tularemia include skin ulcers, painful or swollen lymph nodes, a sore throat, and diarrhea.

Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus

Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) can be spread by rats and house mice. This condition typically occurs in two stages:

  • Stage 1 symptoms include headaches, decreased appetite, muscle aches, nausea, and vomiting
  • Stage 2 symptoms include neurological diseases like meningitis, encephalitis, or meningoencephalitis

LCMV is spread by exposure to infected rodents’ urine, droppings, saliva, and nesting materials. Rodent bites can also cause infection.


Some rats carry salmonella bacteria in their digestive tracts. If someone comes in contact with rodent waste, they could potentially contract salmonella. Common symptoms of salmonella include fever, chills, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.

Rat bite fever

Rat bite fever is an illness spread by rodents infected with the bacterium Streptobacillus moniliformis. You can catch this condition if you’re bitten by a rodent or if you make direct contact with them.

Symptoms of rat bite fever include fever, headaches, vomiting, skin rashes, and muscle pain. These symptoms typically occur within 3-10 days of exposure, but they can be delayed as much as three weeks.

How do rats spread diseases?

Rats spread the conditions listed above in several ways. You can contract these illnesses even if you don’t make direct contact with the rat. Here are some common ways that rats can get you and your loved ones sick:

Waste exposure

Exposure to rat waste is typically how people or animals get sick. Waste includes feces and urine, as well as saliva. Exposure to nesting materials can also contribute to infection since rats often spread waste around their nesting areas.


You could get sick if an infected rat bites you or a pet. The same goes for scratches, especially ones that break the skin.

Direct handling

Even without a scratch or bite, you could still become ill after directly handling an infected rodent. Some viruses, in particular, are spread by skin-to-skin contact.

Exposure to other disease-carrying pests

Rats can also spread disease by tracking other infected creatures, such as fleas, ticks, and mites, into your home. These pests can also indirectly infect humans.

Signs of rat infestations

Even if you’ve never seen a rat scurrying across your floor, you could still have an infestation in your home (and be at risk of picking up various illnesses). The following are well-known warning signs of a rat problem:


The presence of rat droppings is one of the best indicators of an infestation.

Droppings are shiny, black, and about ½ to ¾ of an inch long. You can find them anywhere, but pay special attention to areas where rats might hide, such as in and under cabinets and in crawlspaces or basements.

Nesting materials

Rats like to build nests out of materials like shredded paper and fabric, as well as dried plants. If you find piles of these materials throughout your home, a rat has likely put them there. 

Chew marks

Rats will chew anything they can get their teeth on, from cardboard to books to walls. If you notice teeth marks on your belongings, a rat or another pest like a mouse probably caused them. 

Stale odor

Rats are known for spreading a stale, musky odor throughout the home. If you notice a strange smell and can’t tell where it’s coming from, it’s possible that rats are the culprit. 

Strange sounds

You might also hear rats scurrying around in your walls or in the attic overhead. They’re especially active at night and may interfere with your sleep.

Remember that animals have stronger senses of smell and sound than humans. If your dog seems to be barking at nothing, it might actually be smelling or hearing rats and reacting to them.

How to get rid of rats

The sooner you can eliminate rats from your home, the less likely you are to pick up diseases like those mentioned above. If you’ve noticed any signs of a rat infestation, take these steps to combat it as quickly as possible:

Use natural remedies

Some people see results from minor infestations with natural remedies like peppermint oil, cayenne pepper, crushed black pepper, and cloves.

These products have strong scents that irritate rats and may drive them away from your home. They’re unlikely to be helpful in severe cases, though.

Set traps

If you’re wary of potentially harmful pest control products, you may want to set rat traps instead. Traps can be effective, but you’ll need to use a lot of them to eliminate all the rats from your property. 

Contact a pest control expert

One of the most effective, long-lasting ways to eliminate rats is to work with a pest control professional. Many companies offer eco-friendly, non-toxic treatment methods, too, so you can get rid of rats without putting your family’s health at risk.

How to prevent rats (and the diseases they carry)?

Your home might be rat-free after following the steps listed above. However, there’s no guarantee it’ll stay rat-free unless you implement proper preventative measures, such as these:

Seal cracks and holes

Cracks or holes in your walls or gaps between the windows and doors can act as entryways for rats and other pests. Seal them up to prevent rats from easily accessing your property.

Clean and inspect regularly

Keep your home clean and clutter-free. Doing so reduces the number of places rats can burrow without you noticing, meaning you’ll be less likely to experience an infestation.

Get rid of outdoor debris

Outdoor debris can also provide an attractive nesting space for rats. Get rid of piles of leaves, branches, or trash in your yard (or at least move them far away from your house).

Store food properly

Open and easily accessible food containers easily draw in rats and other pets. Consider swapping cardboard containers (which are easy to chew through) with plastic or glass ones. Make sure lids are always sealed properly, too.

Plant rat deterrents

Consider planting mint in your garden or growing mint indoors. These plants’ scents can deter rats and make them less likely to return. 

Schedule maintenance treatments

Pest control professionals do a great job of getting rats out of your home. However, the best way to keep them out is to schedule regular maintenance treatments. These treatments will prevent rats from returning and ensure your home stays clean and disease-free long-term.

Keep your home healthy and rat-free

Rat infestations are frustrating and potentially dangerous for you and your loved ones. Luckily, you can follow the steps in this guide to eliminate existing infestations and prevent future ones.

Do you need help with professional pest removal or maintenance treatments?

If you’re seeking assistance in the Houston area, Natran Green Pest Controls offers safe and effective services for homes of all types and sizes. Contact us today to learn more.

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