Beyond Zoonosis: The Mental Health Impacts of Rat Exposure of Inner-City Residents
This work was one of the 2018 Ron de Burger Student Award winners.
Author: Raymond Lam, University of British Columbia – Master of Science in Occupational and Environmental Hygiene
- Rats are a common problem in cities worldwide, but impoverished, inner-city neighborhoods are disproportionately affected because factors associated with poverty promote rat infestations and rat-human contact.
- Public health has mostly focused on disease transmission associated with rat infestations, but little is known about the non-physical consequences of this environmental exposure.
- Mental health is often neglected but is receiving increasing attention in public health research and practice.
- A systematic review and narrative synthesis of the published literature was conducted to explore the effect of rat exposure on mental health among inner-city residents.
- Titles and abstracts of articles were first reviewed to determine relevance to the research question; full text of included articles were subsequently reviewed and synthesized for evidence between the exposure and outcome.
Results & Discussion
- Literature addressing this topic was sparse (eight out of seven hundred and fifty-six articles) but the results consistently suggest that rat exposure has a negative impact on mental health.
- These impacts can be direct or indirect and themselves can be exacerbated by external variables.
- Evidence of the mental health impact of other pest infestations have been mixed, suggesting pest-specific factors, such as perception, also play a role in determining the outcome.
- Given the limited literature, many areas for future research remain: how rat infestation elicits stress, if a dose-response relationship exists between rat exposure and poor mental health, if different demographics are disproportionately affected, and possible interventions for the problem.
- By developing a better understanding of potential rat-related health risks, both mental and physical, public health officials can better evaluate, refine, and develop their policies regarding rats.
The full review is available below.