Rats could spread ‘new Covid variant immune to vaccine’ as UK rodent population explodes
London: Increase in 'plague of rats' investigated by team
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The nation has been busy flocking to pubs, non-essential shops and restaurants since Prime Minister Boris Johnson relaxed the lockdown restrictions on April 12. But while Britons were locked down for the best part of a year, the rodent population has reportedly surged by a quarter to an estimated 150 million. Coronavirus is known to be present in sewage, which is monitored in some cities, and Government scientists have now warned that rats could pick up the virus there and pass it back to humans, sparking new outbreaks.
Laboratory studies previously showed that rats can contract coronavirus, and DEFRA is now reportedly concerned that the virus could mutate in the animals, creating a more virulent variant.
Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) warned around 50 workers are infected with rat-borne diseases each year – if similar numbers caught COVID-19, it could spark an outbreak.
The authors said: “This level of rodent-human transmission of coronavirus could be enough to seed a new outbreak in the human population with low immunity or if the variant of concern evades the vaccine-induced immunity.”
They did clarify that this risk is “reduced considerably” for the general population, but have called for greater surveillance in industries that regularly come into contact with rats.
The report added: “Even at very low risk if this is of a variant that is easily transmitted between people, then the potential impact is greater.
“There are key uncertainties around whether the variant of concern would become established in a rodent population, or would the virus become adapted to the rodent host and would no longer be able to infect a human or establish a new outbreak.
“Therefore there remain some important questions about whether these populations could act as reservoirs for future outbreaks but targeted surveillance in human populations at a higher risk of exposure would answer some of those questions in time.”
It comes as reports of the pests terrorising neighbourhoods have surged.
With many Britons working from home, more waste than usual is piling up outside their front doors – and it is said to be far too tempting for the rodents to stay away.
Peter Higgs, managing director of PGH Pest Control and Prevention, in Surrey, said his firm has seen a 50 percent increase in residential call-outs since social distancing measures were introduced.
He said: “They are coming into homes – that’s exactly what’s happening.
“All of the waste that was produced by people eating food out, and from establishments doing the cooking – that’s gone.
“I think some bin collections aren’t quite as frequent at the moment, too. They are getting into rubbish.
“When they are hungry they will eat each other. They will use a hierarchy in cities – the big rats will eat the smaller ones.
“They will come in using the drainage system – they eat faeces.”
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The British Pest Control said its members reported a 51 percent hike in rodent activity during the first lockdown in spring 2020, and a 78 percent increase when the shutdown returned in November.
And now experts fear the problem could get worse.
Sam Devereux, of JG Pest Control in London, added: “People being at home more has seen the number of residential callouts increase.
“In 10 years this was the busiest winter we have ever had.
“But now with the weather improving and pubs, bars and restaurants opening up again, rodents are going to be migrating elsewhere.
“We have contracts with pubs, restaurants and takeaways and, while they have stopped with them being closed, we are expecting to have a busy spring and summer with them.
“As the temperature changes, they will be less inclined to seek shelter in people’s homes and this will be perfect timing with food and drink businesses opening up again.”
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