Can You Die From Exposure to Rat Droppings?

Yes. The possibility exists that you can die from rat droppings, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

You must understand that the prospect of dying from rat droppings is not significant, provided you always follow some specific safety precautions – which are summarized at the end of this article.

Hantavirus

Perhaps the most alarming virus transmitted by rats that has the potential for causing a fatal infection in humans is the hantavirus. Hantavirus made its appearance for the first time in the United States in 1993. The first U.S. outbreak of hantavirus occurred at the Four Corners area of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. 

The virus that caused the disease was dubbed Sin Nombre and is a derivation of the hantavirus. The distinction of Sin Nombre, the hantavirus derivation now found in the U.S., is that it is the deadliest type of hantavirus on the planet.

About 33 percent of people who contract the Sin Nombre hantavirus will die. This type of hantavirus can cause what is known as hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. When a person is infected with Sin Nombre hantavirus, the virus attacks the lungs. Specifically, it causes the smallest blood vessels in the lungs, the capillaries, to hemorrhage. As the capillaries hemorrhage, blood flows into the lungs. If this process doesn’t abate, a person will die.

There is no anti-viral to treat hantavirus. In fact, there really is not precise remedy for hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. If a person is diagnosed with the syndrome, he or she is immediately taken to the hospital, placed on the ICU, and attached to a ventilator. In just under 60 percent of cases, this strategy allows a patient to make it through the worst part of the illness. However, as noted earlier, in 30 percent of the cases, this medical intervention makes no difference and the patient dies.

In the final analysis, the best way to protect against dying from a hantavirus infection is to avoid contracting it in the first instance. The most important course to take in this regard is to always avoid contact with mouse and rat droppings and urine. This includes dried droppings and urine. Mouse and rat droppings and urine can contain hantavirus.

The reality is that dried mouse and rat droppings crumble and turn to dust easily. When that happens, at last some of the dust becomes airborne. If dust containing hantavirus is inhaled, the possibility exists that an individual can become infected with the virus and end up with the potentially fatal hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.

Leptospirosis

Leptospirosis is contracted by exposure to mouse and rat urine. The most common way this bacterium is passed to humans is through the consumption of food item (or beverage) that has been contaminated by mouse or rat urine.

Leptospirosis sometimes is mistaken for other illnesses. Some people infected by this bacterium never have any symptoms. Others suffer from a variety of maladies that include:

  • Kidney damage
  • Meningitis
  • Liver failure
  • Respiratory distress

In some isolated cases, a person can die from leptospirosis. More often than not, a person who dies from leptospirosis is older or has a compromised immune system. Overall, leptospirosis is a far less serious threat to humans than is hantavirus.

Rat Bite Fever

Although called rat bit fever, a person can also end up with this disease by consuming rat droppings that have ended up in food. This disease is caused by bacterium that can be found in rat droppings.

The more common symptoms of rat bite fever are:

  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Joint pain, redness, or swelling
  • Rash

There exists a risk of death associated with rat bite fever. However, that risk is less significant than is the case with both hantavirus and leptospirosis. In most cases, a person that dies of rat bite fever is elderly, very young, or has a suppressed immune system.

Salmonella

Another type of disease that can be contracted from exposure to mouse or rat droppings and urine is salmonella. The typical route of transmission is feces or urine that ends up contaminating food or beverages. These items are then consumed by a person.

In the vast majority of cases, salmonella is not deadly. A person can end up feeling miserable, suffering from vomiting and diarrhea. In some rare cases, salmonella that originated from mouse or rat droppings can be fatal. In most cases, an individual who dies from exposure to this bacterium is older or has other health conditions that render him or her weaker in the first instance.