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Rats often have a bad reputation for being dirty and carrying loads of diseases. However, according to a new study, these preconceptions may be unfair as they were found to carry no more pathogens than other mammals.
In a study by Georgetown University, they examined 3,000 mammal species and looked for how many diseases they are known to carry. They found that mammals found in urban environments like rats, mice, and pigeons, had ten times more disease-causing microorganisms than the same mammals in rural areas.
However, the researchers realized that these findings did not tell the whole story. They discovered that in the research they studied, urban animals were 100 times better studied, and when they accounted for the sampling bias, they found the pattern disappeared. It turned out city animals were no more likely to carry these diseases than any other critters.
The author of the study, Dr. Gregory Albery, told The Telegraph that it’s normal to assume that animals living in the city would carry more diseases because they live so close to humans and all of the waste that we produce.
“We’ve looked more at animals in our cities, so we’ve found more of their parasites—and we’ve started to hit diminishing returns,” he said.
“This probably means that urban animals aren’t hiding as many important novel pathogens as we might think – those that might cause the next ‘Disease X’.”
The study only examines mammals, but Dr. Albery says that it is “extremely likely” that other animals like pigeons may be victims of false judgments.
“It’s still super unclear whether urban animals truly have more diseases, or whether they’re just in closer proximity to us,” he told The Telegraph.
“All animals have diseases, and it’s the way that we interact with them that often determines the risk they pose to us.
“Either way, stigmatising and placing values on animals based on their perceived cleanliness is only valuable if it helps us to avoid contracting diseases; it looks like minimising contact with all wild animals, whether they’re rural or urban, might be the best move.”
We shouldn’t be judging these little critters so hard. Studies have even found that these sentient creatures can make friends in their communities! Rats are often cruelly used in animal experiments and receive much less attention than when bigger mammals are tested.
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