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Preliminary Survey of Ectoparasites and Associated Pathogens from Norway Rats in New York City

M. J. Frye, C. Firth, M. Bhat, M. A. Firth, X. Che, D. Lee, S. H. Williams, W. I. Lipkin
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jme/tjv014 tjv014 First published online: 2 March 2015

Abstract

The Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus) is a reservoir of many zoonotic pathogens and lives in close proximity to humans in urban environments. Human infection with rodent-borne disease occurs either directly through contact with a rat or its excreta, or indirectly via arthropod vectors such as fleas and ticks. Here, we report on the diversity and abundance of ectoparasitic arthropod species and associated pathogenic bacteria from 133 Norway rats trapped over a 10-mo period in Manhattan, New York, NY. Norway rats were host to the tropical rat mite [Ornithonyssus bacoti (Hirst)], the spiny rat mite (Laelaps echidnina Berlese), Laelaps nuttalli Hirst, the spined rat louse [Polyplax spinulosa (Burmeister)], and the Oriental rat flea [(Xenopsylla cheopis) (Rothschild)], with an average of 1.7 species per individual. A flea index of 4.1 X. cheopis was determined, whereas previous studies in New York City reported 0.22 fleas per rat. Multiple species of pathogenic Bartonella were identified from Oriental rat fleas that were related to Bartonella tribocorum, Bartonella rochalimae, and Bartonella elizabethae. However, no evidence of Yersinia pestis or Rickettsia spp. infection was detected in fleas. The identification of multiple medically important ectoparasite species in New York City underscores the need for future efforts to fully characterize the diversity and distribution of ectoparasites on Norway rats, and assess the risk to humans of vector-borne disease transmission.

  • ectoparasite
  • pathogen
  • Rattus norvegicus
  • Xenopsylla cheopis
  • Bartonella
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