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First survey on zoonotic helminthosis in urban brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) in Spain and associated public health considerations

Galán-Puchades, María Teresa, Sanxis-Furió, Joan, Pascual, Jordi, Bueno-Marí, Rubén, Franco, Sandra, Peracho, Víctor, Montalvo, Tomás, Fuentes, Màrius V.
Veterinary parasitology 2018 v.259 pp. 49-52
Acanthocephala, Gongylonema neoplasticum, Heterakis, Hymenolepis nana, Nippostrongylus brasiliensis, Rattus norvegicus, bacteria, cities, eggs, habitats, helminthiasis, helminths, humans, insects, intermediate hosts, parks, public health, rats, risk, rural areas, surveys, synanthropes, urban areas, viruses, zoonoses, Spain
The brown rat, Rattus norvegicus, with a worldwide distribution, is the most commensal species among synanthropic rodents, since its main habitat, in urban as well as in rural areas, is always linked to humans. Therefore, people living in close proximity to rodent populations can be exposed to infection. Whereas bacteria and viruses are the best known rat-associated zoonoses in urban environments, the role of brown rats as reservoirs for helminth parasites and the associated risk for humans are less well known. Specifically, this role has not been analyzed in Spain to date. A total of 100 R. norvegicus trapped in the sewage system (n = 85), and parks (n = 15) of Barcelona was examined. The overall prevalence of helminth infection was 85%. The helminths found were Hymenolepis nana (17%), H. diminuta (33%) (Cestoda), Calodium hepaticum (17%), Eucoleus gastricus (28%), Aonchotheca annulosa (12%), Trichosomoides crassicauda (7%), Nippostrongylus brasiliensis (46%), Heterakis spumosa (62%), Gongylonema neoplasticum (20%) (Nematoda) and Moniliformis moniliformis (6%) (Acanthocephala). Five of the ten helminth species are considered zoonotic parasites, with rats acting as reservoirs for human infection, i.e. H. nana, H. diminuta, C. hepaticum, G. neoplasticum and M. moniliformis. G. neoplasticum and M. moniliformis are reported for the first time in urban rats in Europe. H. nana, H. diminuta and C. hepaticum are the most widespread species in European cities. For H. nana and C. hepaticum, rats act as effective spreaders of the human infective stage (eggs). For H. diminuta, G. neoplasticum and M. moniliformis, rats act as indirect reservoirs of the zoonoses since the eggs shed by the rats are infective for their insect intermediate hosts only. Medical practitioners need to be made aware of the range of parasites carried by rats, as there is a realistic likelihood that ill health currently caused by rat infestations may be misdiagnosed.