Scientists Say 1 in 4 New York City Mice Carry Drug-Resistant Super-Diseases
New York City is infamous for graffiti-covered buildings, rough neighborhoods, and rats the size of raccoons, but it turns out it should be paying more attention to its mice: according to a new study, 23 percent (roughly 1 in 4) of New York mice carry a drug-resistant gene, making them excellent carriers for all kinds of diseases, including six previously undiscovered viruses.
The research draws on tests conducted on over 400 mice collected around New York City. The majority were trapped in the trash compactor rooms of residential buildings, though others were caught in a bakery. Though many of the disease-causing bacteria found in the mice were not harmful to humans, several types of bacteria had the potential to spread to humans.
According to The Washington Post, these include "Clostridium difficile, which causes severe diarrhea in humans; Salmonella enterica, responsible for bacterial food poisoning; Klebsiella pneumoniae, which can cause pneumonia or bloodstream infections; and the toxic and invasive type of Escherichia coli."
Even more worrisome than the bacteria themselves is the discovery that a large portion of the surveyed mice might prove resistant to antibiotics.
Doctors and medical scientists are encountering drug-resistant diseases more frequently than ever before (including a recent case of "super-gonorrhea" in the UK), causing fears that humanity is slowly losing the antibiotic arms race.
However, W. Ian Lipkin, one of the study's authors, cautions that the fact that mice are drug-resistant disease carriers doesn't mean that they're the heralds of New York City's doom: "This doesn't tell us that these mice are directly responsible for infecting humans. But they have the potential to do so."
Tracking how diseases spread from rodents to humans can be trickier than you expect.
A recent study of the spread of the Black Plague, for example, suggests that human lice and fleas, not rats, were they key carrier. If humans had simply bathed more often and stopped wearing lice-infested clothes, the rats may not have mattered much.