A dear friend, who will remain nameless, enjoyed the lucky blessing of the bite of a wild rat while indulging in blatant noblesse oblige. Will he go mad from rabies?
Are wild rats ever found to carry rabies?
Very few rats infected with rabies have ever been found in the United States. Winkler (1973) reviewed the literature on rodent rabies in the United States. He found that during the 18-year period of 1953 and 1970, a small number of rabid rats (39 rats) were found in the United States. The numbers were extremely small: only 11 rabid rats were found in the U.S. during the three year period of 1953-1955. The number of rabid rats declined during the period of time covered by the review, and by the three year period of 1968-1970 only 2 rats were found to be rabid. This decline in the number of rabid rats is probably due to an improvement in diagnostic techniques which led to fewer false positives.
In other countries, no rats were found to be infected with rabies in surveys of wild rat populations in Sri Lanka (Patabendige and Wimalaratne 2003), Poland (Wincewicz 2002), and Bangkok, Thailand (Kantakamalakul 2003). In Thailand, 4.7% of Norway rats (9 rats out of 192) were found to be carrying rabies (Smith et al. 1968).
Have rats ever caused rabies in humans?
Rats and other small rodents have never caused a single case of human rabies in the United States (CDC).
A very few cases of humans infected with rabies by rats have been reported in countries such as Poland, Israel, Thailand and Surinam. In Poland, out of 9,998 cases of human rabies from 1990 to 1994, four were caused by rats (0.04%), while the vast majority were caused by foxes (Zmudziñski and Smreczak 1995, described in Wincewicz 2002). In Israel, one case of human rabies was caused by a bite from a small rodent — possibly a rat or mouse (Gdalevich et al. 2000). In Thailand, out of 7,000 human rabies cases reported each year, 1% are caused by rat bites (Kamoltham et al. 2002). The majority of rabies cases in Thailand are caused by dogs (86.3%) (Pancharoen et al. 2001). An outbreak of paralytic rabies in children in Surinam was attributed to rat bites (Verlinde et al 1975).
Why is rabies so rare in rats?
The answer is unclear. Currently, it is presumed that rats are so small that they almost never survive the attack of a larger rabid animal, like a raccoon, skunk, or fox.