Increased rat-borne zoonotic disease hazard in greener urban areas

Marieke P. de Cock*, Ankje de Vries, Manoj Fonville, Helen J. Esser, Calvin Mehl, Rainer G. Ulrich, Maike Joeres, Donata Hoffmann, Tobias Eisenberg, Katja Schmidt, Marcel Hulst, Wim H.M. van der Poel, Hein Sprong, Miriam Maas

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Urban greening has benefits for both human and environmental health. However, urban greening might also have negative effects as the abundance of wild rats, which can host and spread a great diversity of zoonotic pathogens, increases with urban greenness. Studies on the effect of urban greening on rat-borne zoonotic pathogens are currently unavailable. Therefore, we investigated how urban greenness is associated with rat-borne zoonotic pathogen prevalence and diversity, and translated this to human disease hazard. We screened 412 wild rats (Rattus norvegicus and Rattus rattus) from three cities in the Netherlands for 18 different zoonotic pathogens: Bartonella spp., Leptospira spp., Borrelia spp., Rickettsia spp., Anaplasma phagocytophilum, Neoehrlichia mikurensis, Spiroplasma spp., Streptobacillus moniliformis, Coxiella burnetii, Salmonella spp., methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL)/AmpC-producing Escherichia coli, rat hepatitis E virus (ratHEV), Seoul orthohantavirus, Cowpox virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), Toxoplasma gondii and Babesia spp. We modelled the relationships between pathogen prevalence and diversity and urban greenness. We detected 13 different zoonotic pathogens. Rats from greener urban areas had a significantly higher prevalence of Bartonella spp. and Borrelia spp., and a significantly lower prevalence of ESBL/AmpC-producing E. coli and ratHEV. Rat age was positively correlated with pathogen diversity while greenness was not related to pathogen diversity. Additionally, Bartonella spp. occurrence was positively correlated with that of Leptospira spp., Borrelia spp. and Rickettsia spp., and Borrelia spp. occurrence was also positively correlated with that of Rickettsia spp. Our results show an increased rat-borne zoonotic disease hazard in greener urban areas, which for most pathogens was driven by the increase in rat abundance rather than pathogen prevalence. This highlights the importance of keeping rat densities low and investigating the effects of urban greening on the exposure to zoonotic pathogens in order to make informed decisions and to take appropriate countermeasures preventing zoonotic diseases.
Original languageEnglish
Article number165069
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2023


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