Rat Scratch Health Risks: New Yorker Scratched By Rat While Riding Subway

A New York City subway rider was scratched by a rat while waiting on the platform during the Friday morning commute, according to news reports.

NBC New York reported that the rider was taken to the hospital, but no information has been released regarding his or her condition.

The MTA said in a statement that they regularly clean the subway cars and stations, as well as use pest control methods, NBC New York reported.

Rat scratches can be dangerous because the rodents may carry disease. The pest control company Orkin said that a possible health risk from a rat bite or scratch is a bacterial illness called rat-bite fever, and if a person comes in contact with rat urine, he or she may be at risk for leptospirosis.

Rats can also carry parasites, like fleas and mites, that can spread multiple diseases, according to Orkin.

Rat-bite fever is caused by the Streptobacillus moniliformis or Spirillum minus bacteria, according to the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia, and has symptoms of fever, chills, rash and joint pain. The condition is treated with antibiotics.

CBC News reported on research on the risks of rat-bite fever, presented in 2010 to a meeting of the Australasian Society of Infectious Diseases, conducted by Dr. Shivanti Abeysuriya of PathWest Laboratory Medicine in Australia:

According to Abeysuriya, the risk of infection after a bite is about 10 per cent and if untreated, could result in death for one in 10 people. Complications include endocarditis (infection in the heart valves), meningitis, septic arthritis and abscesses of the brain or soft tissue.

Leptospirosis, on the other hand, is caused by Leptospira, a kind of bacteria, and has symptoms of fever, muscle pain, chills, a dry cough and nausea, the A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia reported. Other, rarer, symptoms include muscle problems, bone pain, abdominal pain, rashes, sore throat, and enlarged spleen or liver or lymph glands. Medications like penicillin and ampicillin are used to treat the condition, and the prognosis is usually good if complications don't occur.

There is less information specifically about the risk associated with a scratch, although in 2008, the Telegraph reported on the case of a 56-year-old woman who died from a severe kind of leptospirosis, called Weil's disease, after she was scratched by a rodent.

Marc Cubbon, a microbiologist, explained to the Daily Mail how the transmission occurs:

… The leptospirosis bacteria infects small mammals and rodents. It gets onto their skin via their urine and people with open wounds can easily be infected.