Rodents carry disease. I’m not going to go down the Internet rabbit hole and debate whether the guinea pig is a rodent or not, but I will let this quote from the CDC do it for me:
This outbreak is a reminder that pet rodents such as guinea pigs, regardless of where they are purchased or adopted, can carry Salmonella bacteria even when they look healthy and clean…Pet rodents are not recommended as pets for children younger than 5 years, and should not be kept in childcare centers.
Yes, the adorable pet guinea pig/rodent you are keeping as a pet could be carrying the Salmonella bacteria. Nine people in ten states have reported Salmonella cases linked to pet guinea pigs, prompting an advisory from the CDC. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and stomach pain. The illness usually lasts four to seven days and most people will recover without treatment. In some cases, hospitalization may be required. Salmonella can be more severe for children under than five, older adults, and those with weakened immune systems.
The CDC’s advice for pet rodent owners: wash your hands, don’t eat or drink while playing with your pet rodent, and be aware that any surfaces your pet rodent scurries across could be contaminated. Most importantly (in my opinion): “do not kiss, nuzzle, or hold pet rodents close to your face.”
A large outbreak of Lassa fever in Nigeria has people worried. The area is observing an unusually high number of cases this year. As of February 18, there have been 913 cases and 73 deaths, compared to 733 cases and 71 deaths in all of 2017.
Like Ebola, Lassa fever is a hemorrhagic fever, though considered less serious than Ebola. According the WHO, Lassa fever usually starts with a fever and progresses to a headache, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In severe cases there may fluid in the lungs, and bleeding from the mouth, nose or other areas. In the most advanced stage of the disease shock, seizures, and coma may occur. In fatal cases, death usually occurs within 14 days of the onset. The drug Ribavirin, given via IV, is considered an effective treatment for Lassa fever if given within 6 days of the onset of symptoms.
What’s causing such a large outbreak? According to Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, director of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, a couple things may be at play: Improved detection, and that Nigeria’s growing population has brought people closer to the disease host: the infamous rat.
According to NPR:
“West Africa’s dry winters push rodents closer to people to scavenge for food. Virus-carrying rats may defecate or urinate in grains and other food; people can pick up the virus from contact with contaminated products. The virus can also spread between people via bodily fluids. And there are a lot of rats – which means there’s a lot of potential for outbreaks.”
The WHO is scaling up its response to the outbreak, and heath officials are urging people to keep food in sealed containers, as well as limit the proximity of garbage to homes.
Rats get a bad rap, and deservedly so. They’re gross and carry a number of diseases.
And they’re infamously known for contributing to the spread of the Black Death, a plague pandemic that terrorized Europe in 1347 for five years and killed more than 20 million people.
Now, a new study is suggesting the possibility of a different scenario. The study proposes that human parasites like fleas and lice (also gross) were responsible for not only the spread of the plague, but the spread of a number of outbreaks from the 1300s to the 1800s (known as the Second Pandemic). Some historians have long believed rats were being unfairly blamed. According to the National Geographic:
For one, the Black Death tore through Europe far faster than any modern plague outbreaks. In addition, “rat falls” precede some modern outbreaks, but medieval plague records don’t mention rats dying en masse…If fleas and lice picked up the plague by biting an infected human, they could potentially hop onto a person in close quarters and transmit the disease.
The new study evaluated which model “best matched mortality patterns from nine different European plague outbreaks from the Second Pandemic. To their surprise, they found that in seven of the nine cities they examined, the human-parasite model more closely fit mortality records than the rat-flea model.”
What does this mean for the rats? Will their reputation be softened by this news? I lived for a number of years in a city fondly known as “Allston Rat City” nicknamed for its truly giant rats. On my street, rats were routinely run over, progressively flattened by cars until they became one with the road. It’s a cool party story I like to pull out. Everyone who has lived in Allston has at least two rat stories. I’ll spare you the second one.
Over a week ago, Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane in Puerto Rico. Maria was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928. Only a week before, Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, skirted past Puerto Rico lashing it with rain and wind, and leaving millions without power. The situation is now nothing short of dire. PBS has a good list of places to donate.
From the LA Times:
The scale of the devastation is mind-boggling. The main island of Puerto Rico is about 500 square miles smaller than Los Angeles County, and about a third of the population. At this moment, relatively few of those people have sufficient shelter, access to potable water, or food, or even the ability to travel to find supplies. One mayor warned that “hysteria is beginning to spread.”
People are stranded in high-rises, and few have power for air conditioning to counter the tropical heat and humidity. Those relying on medicines that must be refrigerated (about 14% of the islanders suffer from diabetes; insulin must be refrigerated to maintain its potency) or treatment systems requiring electricity are particularly vulnerable. Local officials report there are still parts of the island from which they have not received damage and casualty reports.
From The Washington Post:
But the scope of the devastation is so broad, and the relief effort so concentrated in San Juan, that many people from outside the capital say they have received little to no help.
“Nothing, nothing, nothing,” said 58-year-old retiree Angel Luis Rodriguez. “I’ve lost everything, and no one has shown up to see if anyone lives here.”
From The New York Times:
For the sick and the elderly, heat can be deadly. Without sufficient power, X-ray machines, CT scans, and machines for cardiac catheterization do not function, and generators are not powerful enough to make them work. Only one in five operating rooms is functioning. Diesel is hard to find. And with a shortage of fresh water, another concern looms: a possible public health crisis because of unsanitary conditions.
The potential for a public health crisis is a big concern, he said. Rats and decomposing animals can spread disease, the doctor added. Without running water, people are probably not washing their hands or boiling water often enough, or cooking their food well enough. This could lead to gastrointestinal outbreaks.
“This is like in war: You work with what you have,” said Dr. Carlos Gómez-Marcial, the emergency room director.