Friday, February 28, 2014
A reminder about rat bite fever
USA Today reports that a San Diego family is suing Petco [the national pet retailer] after their 10-year old son died from rat bite fever allegedly contracted after handling a new pet rat. Results of testing by the Centers for Disease Control have apparently confirmed that the purchased rat was indeed infected with the pathogen.
Rat bite fever is caused by a bacterium known as Streptobacillus moniliformis. According to the CDC, people can contract rat bite fever from bites or scratches from infected rodents, such as rats, mice and gerbils, or even just by handling an animal with the disease without a bite or scratch. It can also be contracted by consuming food or drink contaminated with the bacteria. It is not spread from person to person. Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are highly effective at treating rat bite fever, and it is rarely fatal, according to the CDC.
Nevertheless, as the story implies, rat bite fever is not to be taken lightly. Although this case relates to a domesticated rat, it is no less relevant to pest control on the street. It would be interesting to learn how the pet rat contracted the disease, perhaps from a Norway or black rat infestation in the store or breeding facility.
How many other serious human diseases are there that we glibly recite as associated with the ants, cockroaches, flies and rodents we control? Until a personal story like this comes along, it's easy to downplay the importance of our profession. But I'm reminded today how important this work really is.