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Developing evidence-based surveillance for emerging rat-borne zoonoses in changing environments


2019 - 2023

Group and collaboration

Collaboration: Dr. Miriam Maas and Dr. Hein Sprong (RIVM), Prof. Dr. Wim H.M. van der Poel (WBVR), PD. Dr. Rainer G. Ulrich (FLI), Dr. Sara Burt (Utrecht University), Dr. Patrick A. Jansen (Wageningen University)

PhD student: Marieke de Cock

Project description

Brown (Rattus norvegicus) and black rats (R. rattus) can carry a multitude of pathogens with public and veterinary health importance. Their potential to rapidly reach high population numbers creates unpredictable situations of high pathogen transmission risks. Rat populations are heavily affected by environmental changes, including urbanization and climate change. A new phenomenon with yet unknown consequences for rat-borne diseases is the "greening" and "blueing" of cities to improve living conditions and biodiversity and to combat heat. This research will look at the effect of greening and blueing of cities on the presence and abundance of rats and the pathogens they carry, and the associated public health risks. In order to perform a risk assessment and to mitigate the risks, a surveillance system is needed that has information about both pathogen distribution as well as rat population developments. Knowledge gaps in the current surveillance system hamper risk assessment, early detection of changing risks, and adequate responses. Therefore, the overall aim of this project is to design and test an effective surveillance system for rat-borne diseases, which can be extrapolated to other countries in the future.


  • Investigate whether citizen science can be used to monitor rat populations
  • Examine the pathobiome of brown and black rats to assess host factors associated with pathogens
  • Perform a risk assessment about the public health risks of rat-borne zoonoses
  • Study the effect of greening and blueing of cities on rat populations and the related public health risk

The One Health European Joint Program (EJP) started on 1 January 2018. By integrating and coordinating the research programs of institutes working in the areas of public health, animal health and food safety, a sustainable European partnership is set up. A number of Dutch institutes also play a role within this program. Both RIVM, WBVR and the partners within Netherlands Centre for One Health participate in various research projects and activities aimed at knowledge integration.


PhD student interview

Interview: ‘Catching and analysing rats might unnerve some people, but not me’

PhD student Marieke de Cock is studying zoonotic diseases transmitted by rats and other urban wildlife species, with an emphasis on the impact of urban greening. She analyses rats that were caught in three Dutch cities to find out which zoonotic diseases they carry.