Did the Superstorm force diseased rats out of the subway?

Humans weren't alone in being displaced earlier this week by the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Video images of flooded subway stations in Lower Manhattan revealed the extent of damage inflicted by the storm surge - flooding that would have surely forced thousands of rats out of the subways and into more populated areas. This has experts worried, and they're warning that these rats may start to spread diseases like leptospirosis, hantavirus, typhus, salmonella - and even the plague.

While some rats undoubtedly drowned, many would have escaped the rising waters; rats are remarkably good swimmers and climbers. And given that their subway habitats are now submerged in water, they have no choice but to find shelter and food elsewhere - like houses and apartment buildings.

Speaking to the Huffington Post, ecologist Rick Ostfield highlighted the concerns. "One of [the] things we know can exacerbate disease is massive dispersal," he said. "Rats are highly social individuals and live in a fairly stable social structure. If this storm disturbs that, rats could start infesting areas they never did before."

He warns that rats can spread disease through their bites, feces, and urine. "A rat disturbance is something we should be concerned about," he added.

That said, Ostfield suspects that the huge volume of water could dilute the pathogens and lessen risks to public health. Moreover, as the flood waters recede, many rats should return to their old stomping grounds. It's worth noting that rats weren't the only rodents to feel Sandy's wrath; the New York Post is reporting that NYU lost thousands of mice to the flooding, including many precious enzymes, antibodies, and DNA.

Top image via Heiko Kiera/Shutterstock.