Statia and St. Kitts unite in joint fight against rats

ST. EUSTATIUS–While rats are being used by military researchers to sniff out explosives and humans trapped in rubble, rats in the West Indies are simply classified as a common pest. Rats are known to spread disease and their presence is not wanted. A team of nine scientists from Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine in St. Kitts recently visited St. Eustatius. Their aim was to carry out a dissection marathon on rats caught on the island, and find out if these pose a real threat to humans and other animals.

The “One Health” delegation from St. Kitts was led by Dr. Sree Rajeev. The team dissected approximately 50 rats to take kidney samples for later analysis at the University’s laboratories.

“We are particularly interested in whether these rodents harbour the bacteria that causes an infection called Leptospirosis,” explained Rajeev. “The disease is more common in tropical regions and spreads by the rat’s urine.”

In addition to being a health risk to humans and animals, Statia’s rats are generally suspected of threatening the conservation of various protected endemic species by feeding on eggs and hatchlings.

President of Eastern Caribbean Public Health Foundation Dr. Teresa Leslie, coordinated the visit and also participated in the dissections. “We are working closely with the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI) to trap and study these virulent vermin,” she said.

“Rats are highly intelligent and have a keen sense of smell. The more we know about their behaviour and ecology, the more successful we will be at controlling them.”

Statia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr. Sharon Viera and Hannah Madden of CNSI were also present.

It will be some weeks before the laboratory results will become available. According to Rajeev, the results will reveal the “hidden secrets” of the dissected rats. “DNA testing will confirm the exact species and gender of the rat. We shall test the kidney samples for the presence of the spirochaete bacteria that cause Leptospirosis,” he said.

Leslie pointed out that worldwide about seven to 10 million people are infected by leptospirosis, and there are almost 60,000 deaths annually.

“Rats may share our domestic environment but neither we, nor them, should be comfortable with this arrangement. It was the rats that carried the fleas that caused Bubonic Plague during the Middle Ages in Europe; to know them is to defeat them.”

Source: The Daily Herald