AILSA CHANG, HOST:
OK. So no one likes having a mouse in the house, and now new research suggests the rodents may pose a greater risk to human health than previously believed. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein has the details
ROB STEIN, BYLINE: In the 1999 movie based on E.B. White's classic children's story, "Stuart Little," a New York family adopts an adorable mouse.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STUART LITTLE")
HUGH LAURIE: (As Mr. Little) Attention, everybody.
GEENA DAVIS: (As Mrs. Little) This is Stuart.
MICHAEL J FOX: (As Stuart Little) Hello, everyone.
JONATHAN LIPNICKI: (As George Little) Are you all nuts? He's a mouse.
STEIN: Ian Lipkin at Columbia University wanted to know whether Stuart Little's human brother had it right. Were they nuts? Are mice trouble, even maybe more than rats?
IAN LIPKIN: Because they actually live inside our houses or our apartment buildings - a far more intimate relationship between mice and humans than rats and humans.
STEIN: So Lipkin and his colleagues spent a year collecting mice from all around New York City, so they could test them to see whether they carry any dangerous germs.
LIPKIN: We found a wide range of very important bacteria that are known to cause disease in humans - bacteria that have been implicated in outbreaks of disease.
STEIN: Like salmonella, E. coli, something called clostridium difficile.
LIPKIN: Some of these illnesses are life threatening. I mean, people die of clostridium difficile. People die of klebsiella. People die of all of these. So these are serious problems.
STEIN: And many of the germs appear to be resistant to treatment by antibiotics.
LIPKIN: So you not only have mice carrying bacteria that have the potential to cause human disease but also carrying bacteria that have components that actually would thwart our ability to treat these infections with antibiotics. So it's a very important finding.
STEIN: Other researchers agree but caution that just because the mice are carrying germs doesn't necessarily mean they're spreading them to people. James Childs is at the Yale School of Public Health.
JAMES CHILDS: One doesn't want to say the sky is falling. But nonetheless, these are interesting, important studies.
STEIN: Lipkin agrees there's no need to panic next time you see a mouse in your house, but don't assume they're necessarily harmless either.
LIPKIN: You know, I wouldn't think of mice in your house as Stuart Little. These are serious challenges because they're reservoirs for important human pathogens.
STEIN: So people should take common-sense steps to minimize the risk, like block up holes that mice might use to get into your house or apartment. And definitely don't eat any food that might have come into contact with mouse droppings.
LIPKIN: Now, I'm not suggesting that people should use toxic pesticides to get rid of them. But there are ways in which you can eliminate mice or at least control them to make certain that your exposure is minimized.
STEIN: He puts it this way.
LIPKIN: There is no five-second rule. You know, if your food is contaminated with mouse droppings, you shouldn't eat it.
STEIN: Rob Stein, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.