Anti-Rattus Bigotry: Why are dead animals so dangerous to humans?

Sass remembers old testy bible prohibitions on touching dead animals. Word on the street in additional to the holy writ is that humans can get diseases just by touching dead animals, especially rats (since dead tigers or elephants in the middle of Brooklyn are rare).

Why are dead animals so dangerous to us to touch – or are they actually NOT that dangerous? Dead rats are even more feared – is this anti-rattus bigotry dating from black plague fears, or legitimate fear? If an animal’s dead, even a plaguey rat shouldn’t hurt us, should it?

Plague is mostly spread not by rats themselves but by their fleas. A dead rat could be loaded with infected fleas just looking for a new warm host to jump to. The tissues of dead animals can also transmit plague.

Another one is hantavirus in the case of deer mice - apparently it can survive on its own for a couple of days.

Prohibitions against touching dead animals aren’t just Biblical. Some Native American cultures had a similar prohibition and I’m sure it shows up elsewhere too.

I’ve heard some speculation that the major reason for preventing touching is really to prevent eating. It might be tempting to eat a freshly dead animal in a day when no one had as much food or meat as they wanted. However, you risk getting sick in a myriad of ways - for example, from the animal’s own sickness or parasites, or the meat being more rotten than you think.

Things that have been dead for a while are also full of bacteria, including some pretty dangerous ones.

As soon as an animal dies, it begins decomposing and the tissue is broken down by bacteria and fungi. Humans are particularly susceptible to contracting diseases from this, and I believe (no cite right now I’m afraid) the chances of infection are higher during prolonged exposure.

I think a lot of these ancient prohibitions are likely based on actual observation rather than arbitrary rulings. Ancient peoples noticed that when in contact with dead animals, people were more likely to get sick, so rules were made.

Touching any (wild) rat is bad, but you don’t normally have to warn someone not to touch a live rat.

True - live wild rats usually are able to give sufficient warning on their own not to touch that most people leave them alone.

Are you sure about this? That bacteria (and fungi) responsible for putrefaction of meat cause disease (other than poisoning) in humans? What kind of disease?