The potential of Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus) to spread the parasite Cryptosporidium parvum was investigated by examining parasite prevalence in relation to the structure and movements of three permanent rat populations living on farmland in Warwickshire (UK) from October 1994 to March 1997. One population lived among a group of farm buildings housing cattle, while the other two had no contact with livestock, one living around a pond and its outflowing stream and the other on a rubbish tip. Overall, parasite occurrence was 24% (n = 438), but it varied according to body weight (age) with 40% of juveniles (≤100 g) infected decreasing to 12% for adults >400 g, suggesting that actively breeding populations are potentially more likely to spread the parasite than non-breeding populations. There was no difference in prevalence between the three populations. The parasite was detected in more males (29%) than females (19%). Seasonally, on the livestock farm, prevalence was significantly lower in autumn (10%), but varied little (31–36%) from winter to summer. In contrast, on the arable farm, prevalence peaked in summer (50%) with a trough in winter (6%). Infection in rats appeared to last <67 days. Rats living on the livestock farm had home ranges largely confined to the cattle sheds, thereby maintaining a potential source of infection for livestock if rodent control was not part of a decontamination program. Equally, rats living around the pond on the arable farm provided a source of oocysts to contaminate the pond water, as well as being able to carry the parasite to nearby farm buildings or even to neighboring farms.
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Vol. 35 • No. 4