Rats have taken on many roles in the lives of humans today and throughout history. Most see them as pests, some see them as pets and others see them as a valuable resource in medical laboratory tests. Rats allergies are not a common issue because most people avoid contact with them. This is not the case for those who have rats as pets or who work in close proximity with rats. There are some facts that people should know about allergies to rats.
Theories / speculation
Allergies to rats are more common in people who have close contact with them on a daily basis. Laboratory technicians are the most likely to develop an allergy to rats, as they work with many of these and are constantly exposed to rats' dandruff and urine. According to ImmunoCAP InVitroSight, between 10% and 33% of laboratory workers who handle small animals such as laboratory rats develop allergies to animals within 3 years of employment. Those who own rats as pets may find that they are allergic to dandruff, urine or rat saliva.
Allergies to rats are caused by exposure to urine, dandruff (particles thrown from the skin) and saliva. Dandruff and saliva dries and become scales that are carried by the air. Sensitive manipulators that inhale the particles are subject to an allergic reaction. Because the symptoms are a consequence of inhalation, someone who is not directly in contact with the rat may also be subject to an allergic reaction. Rat urine can be found in the legs and body of the rat, so direct contact can lead to allergic skin reactions.
According to Allergy Matters, a study found that rats cause more allergic skin reactions as opposed to respiratory problems. The protein found in the urine of a rat can cause pruritic rashes on the skin. Rat allergens have also been found to produce asthma and other respiratory problems, nasal inflammation, runny nose, urticaria and conjunctivitis. These symptoms are more common in laboratory workers.
Constant exposure to rat allergens increases sensitivity and symptoms. Because of this, what could begin as a mild and barely perceptible reaction to rats may increase over time. Many laboratory workers end up changing occupations due to the severity of their symptoms.
Prevention / solution
For those who keep rats as pets, there are some steps that can be taken to reduce or eliminate the symptoms.When dandruff and saliva is transported through the air, it can land on the furniture or get trapped in the carpets. Vacuums that have a HEPA filter (High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) can be used on carpets and furniture to eliminate allergens. People with allergen sensitive skin should consider handling rats as pets using gloves. One study found that the irritant protein in rat urine was stronger in older males, so younger female rats could be a better choice as a pet for sensitive homes.