Intended for healthcare professionals

Student Life

Rat race

BMJ 2005; 330 doi: (Published 01 February 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:050282
  1. Ellen Welch, preregistration house officer1,
  2. Geoff Gill, reader in tropical medicine2
  1. 1Royal Liverpool University Hospital
  2. 2Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

Living in poorly maintained accommodation, students may find themselves playing host to hundreds of unwelcome visitors--rats. Ellen Welch and Geoff Gill give you the lowdown on these common pests

Student houses in the United Kingdom are renowned for being pretty disgusting. Stereotypically owned by a dodgy landlord, juggling to keep a dozen properties within the legal health and safety requirements, they are often overrun with a host of nasties--mould, damp, carbon monoxide poisoning, and rats.

Some 16% of UK students live in vermin infested flats and up to 950'000 UK homes have been found to be afflicted with the same problem.12 A recent report by the National Pest Technicians Association claims that brown rat infestations in Britain have risen 32% in 5 years.3 But, contrary to popular political viewpoint, it is not just the United Kingdom that is home to lots of rats; they can be found scurrying around every country in the world.

View this table:
Table 1

Different types of diseases which can be passed on through rats


Rats have gnawed their way into the lives of humans for centuries, gaining recognition as one of the most destructive pests on earth. The great bubonic plagues of the middle ages swept through Europe causing mass hysteria and the death of one third of the population of Europe.4 Responsibility for the disaster rested on the backs of the black rats and the diseased fleas they carried (Xenopsylla cheopis). Outbreaks of plague do still occur throughout the world, most commonly in the Americas, Central Africa, and the Far East but they are more effectively controlled nowadays.

Yersinia pestis, the causative gram negative bacillus has two main clinical presentations. Pneumonic plague is fatal in almost all affected patients without treatment and is characterised by sudden onset fever and pneumonia which can progress to …

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