New York Mice Are Crawling With Dangerous Microbes

Germs carried by New York's mice are plentiful, and some have antibiotic-resistance genes

NYC house mice carry deadly disease-causing bacteria, studies find

A new study by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that some house mice that live in the city carry bacteria that may be resistant to antibiotics.

"That's the implication", said senior researcher Dr. W. Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University's Center for Infection and Immunity, in New York City.

"Our study raises the possibility that serious infections - including those resistant to antibiotics -may be passed from these mice to humans, although further research is needed to understand how often this happens, if at all".

"Many of the species they identified cause gastrointestinal infections in humans and could contaminate food products or food preparation areas if mouse droppings are present", Smith told CIDRAP News. If mice in NY are carrying these pathogens and bacterial genes, it's highly likely that mice in cities all over the world are, too. Yet the mice living near us may carry genes that contribute to the looming threat of superbugs. They found nine viruses, none of which is known to infect humans.

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In the countryside, it might be different, Viney said, "because then the density of people is less, so mice would be in closer contact with wild animals, perhaps livestock, cows and sheep and pigs". Some of the bacteria also had genes that confer resistance to certain antibiotics.

The study, published Tuesday, involved 416 mice collected from residential buildings at seven locations in the five boroughs.

However, this study didn't find a definitive link between mice carrying bacteria and humans contracting disease.

A new study into hundreds of rodents caught from domestic premises found evidence of pathogens such as E.coli, C. difficile and Salmonella.

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The second study did find that mice carry a wide range of bacteria that are harmful to humans.

Salmonella infections alone lead to 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths in the US each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Just last month, researchers reported that some rubber duckies contained "potentially pathogenic bacteria", though outside researchers expressed skepticism that playing with the toys at bath time was driving many cases of human disease. Their new strategy, which relies on a computer algorithm that mimics the natural process of evolution, has already yielded one potential drug candidate that successfully killed bacteria in mice. For example, there's probably a much better chance you could be exposed to disease-causing microbes in your food or from touching a pet without washing your hands than from rodents.

Together, the findings show that mice may be an untapped reservoir of potentially risky infections, and suggest that mouse populations should be studied when outbreaks of such infections occur - just as mosquitoes are investigated when cases of West Nile or Zika start to surge. "Then we only had to screen a tiny fraction of the entirety of the sequences that the computer was able to browse through", de la Fuente-Nunez says.

"I don't think it's anything to be overly concerned about", Walsh said about the new study's findings.

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