When I was in elementary school, my mom spotted what she thought was a stuffed animal on our kitchen floor. She looked closer, and realized it was a dead mouse. Why is this memory seared into my brain? Because I've always found rodents objectively terrifying, and I do not know what I'd do if I spotted a mouse in the wild. There's a reason I live in the suburbs of Florida instead of a big city. But are mice dangerous? A new study found that they could be bringing superbugs into your home — and certain strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, to be specific. I wish I could say that it's not as bad as it sounds, but a new study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health brings some bad news.
Here's the deal: Researchers collected 416 mice from residential buildings in New York City over a yearlong period and analyzed their droppings. They found that the mice carried E. coli, salmonella and other potentially dangerous bacteria — most of which are linked to gastroenteritis (aka, inflammation of the stomach that's also known as the stomach flu). According to the report, the bacteria cause 15,000 hospitalizations and 400 deaths in the U.S. each year.
While the study focused on mice in New York City, the findings are scary for all of us. “Our study raises the possibility that serious infections — including those resistant to antibiotics — may be passed from these mice to humans, although further research is needed to understand how often this happens, if at all,” lead author Simon H. Williams says in a press release about the research. According to the press release, researchers suspect that the disease is passed to humans after we eat food contaminated by mice poop. And statistically speaking, there's a good chance you've eaten food with mice poop — according to HuffPost, the Food and Drug Administration has an allowable limit of mouse feces for manufacturers. In tiny amounts, it's pretty much harmless — but if the mice are carriers of virus or disease, things can get a bit more complicated.
Even though I'm mostly anti-rodent, I will allow that mice have always been cuter and more appealing than the rats I've spotted. But researchers are concerned that attitudes like mine are part of the problem. Generally, we focus a ton of attention on rats without talking about the potential harm that mice can bring. "New Yorkers tend to focus on rats because they are larger and we see them scurrying around in streets or subways; however, from a public health vantage point, mice are more worrisome because they live indoors and are more likely to contaminate our environment, even if we don't see them," says senior author W. Ian Lipkin, MD., in the release.
So how do you get rid of the threat? The National Pesticide Information Center, a resource provided by Oregon State University and the Environmental Protection Agency, notes that mice infestations are more common than rat infestations, and the animals are usually active at night. They have some tips that we can all follow.
- Clean your house regularly, because mice are less noticeable if you have clutter everywhere.
- Watch out for tree limbs and vegetation near your home or apartment because mice can climb in.
- Seal cracks in your home so mice can't sneak in through holes.
- Watch out for brown or gray smudges on your walls — it could be evidence of mice.
If you do have a mice infestation, you should consider calling in a professional. No one wants the stomach flu, but catching the virus after eating food containing bacteria-filled mouse poop just sounds uniquely awful.