New Study Says NYC Has ‘Teflon’ Mice, And Here’s Why That’s Terrifying

updated Apr 30, 2019
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(Image credit: John E Heintz Jr)

Here is an entirely true story about my first week in my NYC studio.

I was cleaning the kitchen (because I am a certified grown-up), and I got out the vacuum to get the nooks and crannies beneath the dishwasher and cabinets. Before moving in, I had gone a full year without experiencing more than a spider in my living quarters and I was not going to entice any new friends with crumbs from my Cheerio-based dinner. As I moved the vacuum under the stove, it caught something. I pulled and got the corner of a sticky piece of paper that was home to about 500 dead roaches.

(OK, probably like, six roaches.)

I promptly dropped the vacuum, screamed bloody murder, and catapulted myself onto my bed at the other side of the studio. I called a friend (the now editor-in-chief of this very site, in fact), who sent her husband across town to come over and dispose of the terrifying find. He then was so kind as to take me to the hardware store and find roach traps that I could place discreetly around my kitchen. Ever since then, I have been terrified to find one (I barely let the garbage get full and am obsessive about crumbs). I know that pests are an inevitable part of New York City-living, but I have convinced myself that one day soon I will have to face down a mouse—and I won’t be able to handle it.

I just don’t want creatures in my apartment and I don’t think that I am a baby for that fact!

But for those who have called me a baby (my dad, my mom, my friends, my mailman, probably the roaches themselves), I now have a little science on my side. Scientists at Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University had the enviable job of observing gut microbes of city mice and they did not find anything reassuring.

Instead, awaiting them in the feces (sorry) of 416 mice was all kinds of scary-sounding, disease-causing bacteria! These little guys are not the kind friends from Cinderella. They have strains of bacteria you can’t even pronounce, but some you might recognize include: E. coli (help) and salmonella (why). They also carry gastrointestinal disease-causing bacterium, C. difficile and Shigella.

“From tiny studios to penthouse suites, New York City apartments are continually invaded by house mice,” researchers said, and along with the CDC, the team found that these bacteria-carrying vermin may have been responsible for certain disease outbreaks among humans.

“[The analysis] tells us that there is the potential, at least, for these mice to be carriers of bacteria responsible for outbreaks of human disease,” lead researcher Dr. Ian Lipkin said in a statement. Then, in an attempt at a joke: “That’s a big deal. This isn’t Stuart Little.”

Yes, I figured that part out. Thank you. I assume these aren’t James Beard chefs a la Ratatouille, either. (In the study, scientists say we are too obsessed with rats, when mice are just as concerning since they live indoors. For the record, I am concerned about both).

Even worse, these mice (who could carry five of those aforementioned bacterium at once) are actually carrying genes that make them antibiotic resistant. The researchers are calling these supermice “Teflon” mice. Lipkin guesses these mice picked up some of our antibiotics that we throw away and therefore began to develop resistance to the drugs.

As a New Yorker, living alone, with a fear of vermin and an apartment that’s relatively close to a garbage chute, I’m not feeling great right now. In the same boat? Check out our list of (humane—and not) mouse traps here, and find some tips for avoiding an outbreak in the first place here.

Lipkin says this study proves mice populations should be investigated in connection to outbreaks the same way mosquitoes have been in cases of West Nile and Zika viruses.

In the meantime, I may need to move.

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