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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2014 Feb;80(4):1299-305. doi: 10.1128/AEM.03609-13. Epub 2013 Dec 6.

Carriage of Clostridium difficile by wild urban Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) and black rats (Rattus rattus).

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School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.


Clostridium difficile is an important cause of enteric infections in humans. Recently, concerns have been raised regarding whether animals could be a source of C. difficile spores. Although colonization has been identified in a number of domestic species, the ability of commensal pests to serve as a reservoir for C. difficile has not been well investigated. The objective of this study was to determine whether urban rats (Rattus spp.) from Vancouver, Canada, carry C. difficile. Clostridium difficile was isolated from the colon contents of trapped rats and was characterized using ribotyping, toxinotyping, and toxin gene identification. Generalized linear mixed models and spatial analysis were used to characterize the ecology of C. difficile in rats. Clostridium difficile was isolated from 95 of 724 (13.1%) rats, although prevalence differed from 0% to 46.7% among city blocks. The odds of being C. difficile positive decreased with increasing weight (odds ratio [OR], 0.67; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.53 to 0.87), suggesting that carriage is more common in younger animals. The strains isolated included 9 ribotypes that matched recognized international designations, 5 identified by our laboratory in previous studies, and 21 "novel" ribotypes. Some strains were clustered geographically; however, the majority were dispersed throughout the study area, supporting environmental sources of exposure and widespread environmental contamination with a variety of C. difficile strains. Given that urban rats are the source of a number of other pathogens responsible for human morbidity and mortality, the potential for rats to be a source of C. difficile for humans deserves further consideration.

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