Droevendaalsesteeg 6708, Wageningen, Gelderland, The Netherlands

Domplein 3512, Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Greifswald, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany

Houtribweg 39, Lelystad, Flevoland, The Netherlands

Antonie van Leeuwenhoeklaan 9, De Bilt, Utrecht, The Netherlands

OHEJP Desire project logo

The Project #DESIRE

Start: October 2019
Duration: 4 years
Domain: Emerging Threats
Members: RIVM, WbvR- the Netherlands, FLI- Germany
Contact: Dr. Miriam Maas (RIVM)

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

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” of cities to improve living conditions and biodiversity and to combat heat. In addition to these risks in the urban environment, there are numerous examples of the (potential) role that rats have in food contamination and the transmission of pathogens of veterinary and human health importance (e.g. avian influenza or zoonotic hepatitis E virus in rats around pig farms and antimicrobial resistance. Therefore, the wicked problem of rat-borne diseases is an excellent example of a One Health topic that is highly relevant for (re-)emerging threats, and is linked to the topics of antimicrobial resistance and foodborne zoonoses.

Rats are synanthropic animals and with their incredible ability to adapt to new environments, they will always be part of the human living environment. Sustainable interventions that permanently reduce the carrying capacity for rats are needed in situations where the risk of transmission of pathogens creates human or veterinary risks. Targeting the carrying capacity of the environment is of increasing importance now that traditional interventions based on rodenticides are not an effective long-term solution due to development of rodenticide resistance, and may even be increasing the prevalence of rat-borne diseases.

Yet, the knowledge of rat-borne pathogens in European cities is surprisingly scarce. Existing studies mainly focus on the emerging zoonotic pathogens Leptospira spp. and Seoul orthohantavirus, but the number of zoonotic pathogens carried by rats is much larger. Information about rat populations, a vital element in risk assessment, is fragmented at best. In addition to zoonotic pathogens, an increasing number of agents with unknown zoonotic potential has been described by next generation sequencing and broad spectrum PCR methods. The knowledge gaps in the current surveillance system hamper risk assessment, early detection of changing risks, and adequate responses.

In this project we focus on the relation between urban greening and both the abundance of wild rats and the prevalence and richness of zoonotic pathogens carried by wild rats. The analyses are still ongoing. With the results that we find, we hope to gain more knowledge on how to perform smart urban greening, to assess the current hazard and risk of rat-borne zoonoses for public health in the Netherlands, and to integrate this knowledge into practical advise for municipalities and the government.

Project Assets

Final thesis report DESIRE project

Short-term mission to the Friedrich-Loeffler Institut in March-April 2022 Short Term Missions 2021 – One Health EJP

OHEJP ASM Thesis 3MT competition 1st prize in 2021 and 2022

Interview by the Netherlands Centre for One Health (NCOH), December 2021 Interview: ‘Catching and analysing rats might unnerve some people, but not me’ – NCOH

“A day in the life of a OHEJP PhD student”, interview by OHEJP, December 2021 A day in the life of Marieke de Cock – #OHEJPphdlife #DESIRE – One Health EJP

‘Zoonoses in the city’ Oral presentation at the Wilde Stadscafé, Utrecht, the Netherlands. 8th November 2022.

Oral presentation at Belgian Wildlife Disease Society (BWDS) & Dutch Wildlife Disease Society (DWDS) Symposium ‘Wildlife diseases going viral’, Utrecht, the Netherlands. 13th October 2022.

Poster presentation at Netherlands Annual Ecology Meeting, Lunteren, the Netherlands. 20-21st September 2022.

Poster presentation at 4th International Conference on Urban Planning (ICUP2022), Barcelona, Spain. 27-29th June 2022.

Oral presentation at OHEJP Annual Scientific Meeting, Orvieto, Italy. 11-13th April 2022.

Poster presentation at WIAS Annual Conference 2021, Wageningen University and Research, Lunteren, the Netherlands. 28-29th April 2021.

Poster presentation at OHEJP Annual Scientific meeting, online. 27-29th May 2020.

de Cock, M. P., de Vries, A., Fonville, M., Esser, H. J., Mehl, C., Ulrich, R. G., Joeres, M., Hoffmann, D., Eisenberg, T., Schmidt, K., Hulst, M., van der Poel, W. H. M., Sprong, H., & Maas, M. (2023). Increased rat-borne zoonotic disease hazard in greener urban areas. The Science of the Total Environment. 896, 165069. Advance online publication. DOI:

de Cock, M., Fonville, M., de Vries, A., Bossers, A., van den Bogert, B., Hakze-van der Honing, R., Koets, A., Sprong, H., van der Poel, W., & Maas, M. (2022). Screen the unforeseen: Microbiome profiling for detection of zoonotic pathogens in wild rats. Transboundary and Emerging Diseases. 00, 1– 15. DOI:

Marieke de Cock OHEJP PhD student on Desire project

Marieke de Cock

About me:
I studied both my bachelor and master in Biology at Wageningen University (The Netherlands). During my studies I got more and more interested in vector-borne diseases and socially relevant research topics. I specialised in Medical Entomology and Epidemiology. I love to go into nature, to cook, to play sport, to hang out with friends and to travel. Others would describe me as an enthusiastic, perseverant, creative and an adventurous person.<

What motivated me to do a PhD:
My former job made me realise I really missed doing research and going into depth into a specific topic. I wanted to do a PhD project that was, apart from super interesting, also socially relevant. I came across this PhD which I’m doing now, which has everything I’m interested in and which is very diverse. It gives me the opportunity to develop myself, learn a lot of new things and meet a lot of new interesting people.



Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?