Four Italians contract deadly rat urine disease

Four men, three of whom are in a critical condition, contracted a deadly disease spread by rat urine in water while picking mushrooms in the Vicenza area.

Four Italians contract deadly rat urine disease
The four men contracted Weil's disease, a bacterial infection which attacks the kidneys and liver. Photo: Jean Jacques Boujot

Two of the men, aged 57 and 71 from the town of Caldogno, have been in intensive care since being diagnosed with Weil’s disease, a rare bacterial infection which attacks the kidneys and liver, Corriere del Veneto reported.

The pair are believed to have contracted the illness while out picking mushrooms last Tuesday.

Another man in his seventies, from nearby Sarego, was admitted to hospital on Wednesday, while another was admitted on Tuesday.

It is unclear how exactly they contracted the illness, but it is believed that at least one may have fallen in muddy water that was contaminated with rat urine while out mushroom picking.

The disease, also known as leptospirosis, can be transmitted through cuts and scratches or the lining of the mouth, throat or eyes, but it cannot be passed to another human being.

The two patients from Caldogno were taken to hospital last week, suffering from a high fever.

Marzia Miolo, the daughter of one of the men, told Corriere that her father was also struggling to breath after returning from the foraging trip.

She believes the disease was transmitted through a cut on one of his hands after it came into contact with the contaminated water. The fingers on the wounded hand were also swollen, she said.

Miolo, who is also the local president of Coldiretti, the farmers’ association, said the friends had been searching for mushrooms – an extremely popular autumn pastime in Italy – in an area close to several abandoned houses that are swarming with rats.

It is unclear how her father’s friend and the other two patients contracted the disease. 

Miolo added: “I publicized the incident on Facebook. The area is frequented by children as well as mushroom pickers. It’s important for people to be made aware of the risk.”

Marcello Vezzaro, the mayor of Caldogno, said a rodent control initiative is now underway but warned those out picking mushrooms to always wear protective gloves.

“It’s a rare occurrence but we will do everything possible to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

The disease, which usually begins with a high fever, manifests itself between two and 20 days from the moment it’s contracted. It can be fatal if not diagnosed early.

The illness is extremely rare, with only one or two cases a year diagnosed in Italy, according to Raffaele Bonato, the head of San Bortolo’s anaesthesiology and intensive care unit.

“It’s unusual to have four serious cases at the same.”

In its mild form, the disease manifests itself with flu-like symptoms, but in severe cases its causes internal bleeding, organ failure and even death.

Around 10 million cases are diagnosed globally each year.

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Rats and cockroaches roam Italian capital’s hospitals

Some hospitals in Rome are undertaking rodent control at least once a month to rid their premises of rats and cockroaches.

Rats and cockroaches roam Italian capital’s hospitals
Photo: Jens Canon

The move follows a rise in the rat population in parts of the capital over recent months.

Four hospitals – San Camillo-Forlanini, Sant'Andrea, Santo Spirito, Fatabenefratelli and Grassi di Ostia – were named by Il Messaggero as having been “invaded” by rats, as well as cockroaches, with the vermin seen scurrying around “in gardens, basements, lifts and even outside some wards”.

Water snakes have also been seen next to the entrance of the mortuary at Grassi di Ostia, Michel Emi Maritato, the president of AssoTutela, an association that works to protect citizens’ rights, and a civic list mayoral candidate for Rome, told the newspaper.

“The list is long: the gardens of the Santo Spirito, along the river bank, are full of rats,” he added.

“The Fatebenefratelli, on Isola Tiberina, has the same problem. There is also the colony at [San Camillo]-Forlanini.”

Maritato said that despite reporting the issue at San Camillo and Sant’Andrea over the past two years, the situation has become “out of control”.

Rodent controls are carried out at San Camillo at least once a month, the hospital’s director general, Antonio d’Urso, said, adding that the inspections will intensify with the start of spring.

Rome's rats have been terrorising residents for years, even making the famous Trevi Fountain their home last summer as the monument underwent a makeover.

But despite an expensive clean-up in 2013, the rat population has swelled in parts of the city, outnumbering the human population by two to one.

The epidemic has become so bad in recent months that a commission, headed by Rome’s interim mayor Francesco Paolo Tronca, was set up to deal with the issue after previous anti-rat measures were ruled “ineffective”.

Ama, the city’s waste collection firm, has carried out 1,200 rodent control operations since the start of the year, director general Daniele Fortini, said. But most of these have been undertaken in Rome’s Municipio I (Borough I) in the historic centre.

Some 1,700 interventions were made in parts of Rome between April and December 2015 – but only after rat sightings were reported by residents.

The commission has also mulled imposing heavy fines on those caught dumping their waste on the street.