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Rat-Bite Fever

Posted by Sonja K. at 2/26/2014 2:13:41 PM

What Is Rat-Bite Fever? 5 Facts About The Disease That Killed 10-Year-Old Aidan Pankey


A California family is suing a national pet-store chain for the death of their 10-year-old son, who died after his new pet rat infected him with streptobacillus moniliformis, also known as rat-bite fever. Aidan Pankey died last June from the illness two weeks after his grandmother bought him a rat from Petco, KTLA reports.

"[Aidan] appeared lethargic, pale, and could barely walk,” the lawsuit filed by the family against Petco describes. Aidan, who started experiencing “flu-like symptoms,” woke up on the night of June 11, 2013, with a fever and stomach problems and died a few hours later at a children’s hospital.

“I put him to bed after a day at the doctor’s office, and the next thing I knew, it just was too late,” Sharon Pankey, the boy’s grandmother, told ABC News. "I went into his room and he couldn’t speak. He was unstable on his feet. I got him down to my room and he collapsed on the floor. I called 911 because it was scaring me that his breathing was shallow and he seemed to be losing his ability to function.”

The San Diego Medical Examiner’s office confirmed Aidan died from streptobacillus moniliformis – a systemic illness that causes fever, rigors and polyarthralgias. While the illness carries a mortality rate of 13 percent if left untreated, its symptoms are nonspecific, which may prevent an early diagnosis

Signs and symptoms

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there are two forms of rat-bite fever: streptobacillus moniliformis and spirillum minus. In the United States, the most common form of the illness is caused by streptobacillus moniliformis. The latter is commonly found in Asia.  

Symptoms and signs of streptobacillary RBF include fever, vomiting, headache, muscle and joint pain, and a rash. These usually occur 3 to 10 days after exposure to an infected rodent but can be delayed up to three weeks.

After the onset of fever, a red, bumpy rash may appear on the hands and feet. Joints can become swollen, red and painful.

Who is at risk?

Rat-bite fever exposure is typically caused by a bite or a scratch from an infected rodent. Even handling an infected rodent or consuming food contaminated with the bacteria could result in transmission of the disease. The illness isn't contagious between humans.


Once diagnosed, rat-bite fever can be treated with antibiotics, most likely penicillin. Without treatment, the illness could be fatal or cause infections involving the heart, brain or lungs.


The best way to avoid contracting the illness is to avoid contact with rats or rat-contaminated dwellings altogether. If contact can't be avoided, then wearing protective gloves and regular hand washing to avoid hand-to-mouth contamination can decrease one’s risk of exposure.

History of the disease

Rat-bite fever was first described in India more than 2,300 years ago. It was first reported in the U.S. in 1839. In North America, streptobacillus moniliformis has been known to infect laboratory technicians and the poor. Since rats have become popular pets, children now account for more than 50 percent of cases in the U.S.

Original source

 Comments: View Oldest First  

The Shammernator ,
Posted At: 2/26/2014 2:43:44 PM  
That is really sad..... Poor kid.... I really feel for the family.

But thanks to articles like these... Rats are going to be the next pit bull and Burmese python.... BAN THEM ALL. KILL THEM ALL. LEGISLATE THEM ALL. Now everyone will start becoming afraid of rats, as they already are with the overblown salmonella/reptiles thing.

Posted At: 2/26/2014 2:44:15 PM  
Ok, so buy from a reputable breeder who tests. How awful for the kid, but it was preventable :(.

Posted At: 2/26/2014 2:44:52 PM  
I had rats, lots of them as a kid.

Niki ,
Posted At: 2/26/2014 3:04:40 PM  

Breeders breeding for pet rats generally don't test for rat bite fever. Some may, but so far i've not seen anything talk about testing for it. Their main concern are lines without tumors or myco. Neither of my vets have made any mention of needing to test for it either.

Still, buying from a local breeder where the rats are kept indoors will help cut down on what things the rat may carry.

Posted At: 2/26/2014 3:07:58 PM  
Wow, I'd be testing for RBF if I was a pet rat breeder...

Niki ,
Posted At: 2/26/2014 3:20:25 PM

"Rat-bite fever is treated with antibiotics. Your health care provider may prescribe penicillin or tetracyclines for 7 - 14 days."

If that would also kill the RBI in rat, sounds like it would be easier/cheaper/quicker to treat rats for it as a preventative.

Posted At: 2/26/2014 3:41:18 PM  
True, like preventative deworming etc. just seems responsible to treat/test or SOMETHING to prevent customers from being exposed to something like this

Mystic Exotics ,
Posted At: 2/26/2014 3:46:44 PM  

A friend of mine here in WA got RBF after being bit by a rat. I don't remember if it was Petco or Petsmart, but it was from one of those stores.

She was really, really sick.

Posted At: 2/26/2014 4:01:47 PM  
Rbf has a habit of popping up in those stores, by far not the first case of this ive heard about. You'd think the word would spread about all the horrors of those stores :(

Posted At: 2/26/2014 4:11:56 PM  

I agree with Shannon--although RBF is terrible, it's going to be way overblown because the animals spreading this are rats, not something "cuter" like hamsters or guinea pigs.  It's super rare, you're more likely to get salmonella/tetanus from a dog or cat bite.

Posted At: 2/26/2014 4:28:59 PM  
Good to know :)

Niki ,
Posted At: 2/26/2014 5:19:02 PM  

I really hope it doesn't turn off people to them.

Posted At: 2/26/2014 6:17:21 PM  

This is really sad, but I second what Niki said.  Rats make great pets and after playing with hers, I must have some!!  I really want Daisy though, lol.

Lauren ,
Posted At: 2/26/2014 7:30:52 PM  

Every animal has diseases it may carry. Petsmart and PetCo even hand out literature that says so. Life is risky, and the ultimate ending point for all of us is the same.

Is it sad for this little boy and his family? Yes. But is this something so common that we should ban rats or never buy a rat from a chain pet store? Probably not. How many rats does PetCo sell in a year? How often does this occur? I am guessing it is a rather small statistic.

For the record... I think Petsmart takes way better care of their small mammals than PetCo does. Fewer in on tank, cleaner cages, etc.

Posted At: 2/26/2014 7:34:45 PM  

Good thing cat scratches and bites don't cause any infection or illness. Good thing there are not tons of feral cat colonies running around. Good thing pet stores never sell cats or allow rescues to set up shop to find homes for them. Double standards much?

George H. Wessel VII,
Posted At: 2/26/2014 7:51:18 PM  

I didn;t even know this was a "thing" until now. I think rats are adorable.

Michael ,
Posted At: 2/26/2014 7:58:34 PM  

Isn't that a Ted Nugent tune !!

Bethany ,
Posted At: 2/26/2014 8:26:03 PM  

That is really sad!!! 

Posted At: 2/26/2014 8:59:40 PM  

Well not buying from a chain store is a good idea anyhow usually, esp. Petco/smart,  and i feel that about all of the species they sell. 

Lauren ,
Posted At: 2/27/2014 7:41:46 AM  

I have had extremely healthy animals from PetCo or Petsmart, and small private pet stores, and extremely healthy animals from breeders. I have had extremely sick animals from PetCo or Petsmart, and small private stores, and extremely sick animals from breeders. Only snake I ever had with crypt came from a renowned breeder.

With regards to the rat hobby-- if they want more people to obtain rats from private breeders or rescues and not chain stores, maybe they should relax their foolish standards. Tara and I purchased a blue dumbo rat from a friend of hers at a rodent show in PA and wanted a buddy for him. We saw a blue hooded rat we liked at a rescue and were interested in him. The rescue asked us to fill out a form and give them our exotic vets number, which we did. They found out we had snakes (we have taken a couple to the vet for various things) and not only did they deny us the adoption, but they then sent out letters to all the other rat rescues in the area telling them not to adopt to us because we were "cruel" snake owners. The rat hobby has been INVADED by animal rights nut jobs... it's no wonder people go to chain or other pet stores instead of breeders.

Niki ,
Posted At: 2/27/2014 8:19:19 AM  

I'll agree 110% with that & wow, how horrible for ya'll! I wanted to adopt my first pair rather then get something sickly from a store, thankfully I found a rescue that does pretty much anything & was ok with my owning snakes. Before I found the rescue I was starting to think i'd need to go to Petco or Petsmart.

I can't say they are 100% bad. One of my best rats, Daisy the chocolate hooded came from Petsmart. I've thought about breeding her this summer for a single litter.

Tara ,
Posted At: 2/27/2014 8:21:57 AM  

As a small rodent breeder myself...I have to say that MANY rat breeders are scary. They really have been invaded by animal rights groups. They often have contracts and breeding rights, like dog breeders really. They require you to sign contracts saying you will have certain size cages, you will never keep snakes, etc. Not all breeders...but a great many of them.

Shoot...I figured we were golden because we HAD an exotics vet at all. That rescue not only contacted the other rat rescues, but also all the rat breeders in the area. That is how I found out about it..she contacted someone who knew me from breeding mice.

I am not a fan of rats honestly. Every single rat I have gotten has been a biter...both from breeders and pet stores. I will stick with my mice thanks. But I am okay with chain stores selling small mammels, small snakes, and fish. It's not easy to find fish private breeders for example. I have had perfectly lovely animals from those chain stores. It would never be my first choice...but for many it's the only one. Mouse breeders for example are spread pretty thin in this country. There are many states that don't have a single good breeder. Its the same with other small animal breeders. So for many out's a pet store pet rodent or nothing.

Posted At: 2/27/2014 8:47:40 AM  

I used to be an active member of a rat forum, but once I got in to snakes, I left. There were a few other snake-owning members, and ALWAYS discussions about whether it was ethical to own snakes or not.  A lot of people there did hate snakes, wanted live feeding banned (no exceptions), and wrote posts about feeding snakes to rats, but I do kind of understand. These animals are very social and form strong bonds with their owners, so it's almost natural to want revenge upon their predators. There are certainly good people who own rats, but I find the snake community to be much more rational!

Lauren ,
Posted At: 2/27/2014 9:06:24 AM  

Snakes have to eat. Anyone who gets upset about a snake eating a rat had better be a vegetarian/vegan themselves, otherwise they are a hypocrite. I have had rats as pets. I still feed rats to my snakes. It's called life. *shrug*

Posted At: 2/28/2014 5:30:31 PM  

Lauren, I literally tell to everyone who says that snakes should never be fed rodents..."Sure hope you yourself are vegan/vegetarian...because reptile rodents are typically raised way more humanely than most of our mass produced food animals are..."

Plus, I get it, rats/other feeders are cute. BUT. Only in captivity. I'm pretty sure these people like PET rats, but a rat in the house ruining food, spreading fleas and disease? Guessing those aren't as popular. Just as captive snakes should eat captive rats...the haters forget about the snakes keeping their houses disease free and food  safe.


Posted At: 2/28/2014 5:32:21 PM  

I desperately miss my rats, but I've got too many snakes to really feel comfortable having them as pets...that's why I now have a grouchy hedgehog :D

If I wouldn't always smell like food, I'd love to have a rat too. They are great animals, but even as a rat owner before a snake owner...Rats are low on the food chain, its a fact of life.


Amanda Wright,
Posted At: 2/28/2014 6:19:42 PM  

I'm glad that someone posted information about the fever because I was going to look it up anyway so you've saved me some time. It's sad to hear that this has happened but like mentioned above, Petco sells quite a bit of rats and mice throughout the year and makes you fill out that paper when you buy them to lift the liability off them if you get injured for whatever reason. There's something like this with almost every animal out there. It just so happened that this particular child was bit by a rat that carried it. 

We started breeding mice for food but they are also pets as well. When I read the article earlier I hadn't even thought about the possibility of a virus like this. I think any of us as breeders would want to prevent things like this from ever happening in the future.

Also, a note on the rat breeders/animal rights activists, I am part of a group on facebook for rat and mouse owners on there and I don't post much because I've already been whipped four shades to the wind because my main part of my hobby is reptiles. I understand why they could get upset if someone adopts a pet of theirs and they have reptiles... I mean you don't really KNOW if they are going to feed the mice to the snakes. I don't know I think at this point I'm rambling. The point is anything that isn't/won't be sold or kept as a pet, will be humanely culled and frozen.

Posted At: 2/28/2014 7:12:04 PM  

Amanda, I'm really surprised you would say, as a reptile owner, that you can understand why a rodent owner should have a bias that reptile owners are liars...that is what you are basically saying when you say "I mean you don't really KNOW if they are going to feed the mice to the snakes."  Really ? I'm damn honest about when I'm buying feeders and when I'm buying a pet...If this was what everybody chose to think, I'd never have been able to buy my baby hedgehog!

You know why this attitude, ESPECIALLY from a fellow herper pisses me off? I've been personally blacklisted from fostering small dogs, because I answered honestly that I own reptiles...I mean, there was no way to hide that fact, since they would do a home inspection, and I didn't feel like I had anything to be ashamed of...yet they took it upon themselves to not only deny me as a desperately needed foster home (so they claimed...) but when I stood up for myself and told them that not only could a ball python not eat a full grown pug/boster terrier, etc, AND got other fellow herper/small dog owners to vouch for me AND I offered to have a reptile vet talk to them...

I got blacklisted. Over a ball python...not even the red tailed boa that was on the list. I know this because one of those idiots accidentally clicked my address for an IM message that was being sent to every small pure breed (and some not) dog program in our area. THey also posted a nasty post on their FB wall about how its not right that some people are against fostering animals and reacted nastily to their program. This resulting in a firestorm, with people wanting to know who I was so they could teach me a lesson. I am lucky they didn't give out my name...

Oh, and if you stance is "I mean you don't really KNOW if they are going to feed the mice to the snakes..." I guess you don't know that somebody wont feed the mice to their dog, cat, parrot, lizard, or any other predatory species. You will lose business damn fast if that's how you choose to view people.

Posted At: 2/28/2014 7:13:44 PM  

I personally think that anybody who buys a pet rodent under false pretenses to use as a feeder is an ass.

Posted At: 2/28/2014 7:51:55 PM  

I think the point is that there are WAY too many excessively restrictive breeders in the rat/mouse community. I have ferrets, but I would be able to buy all of the rodents I want because people don't think about me feeding rodents the ferrets, but I do. Mine eat f/t just like my snakes, but the point is the ferrets do eat rodents. I also know people who feed rodents to their cats. Refusing to place a dog into a home with a snake is the same level of stupidity as refusing to place a pet rat with a person who has other obligate carnivores in the house. The prices on pets are much higher than feeders, breeders can also ask the buyer if they mean to feed that animal to another animal.

At a certain point you have to take a buyer's word on the safety of the creature you are selling/placin. If you like them after the interview and their references check out, you sell them the animal. A good application will weed out a lot of the scumbags, but the truth is some rescues suck and their operation is little more than legitimzed hoarding. 

Posted At: 2/28/2014 8:20:53 PM  

i try and strike up a conversation with any prospective buyer, and the "bad" ones usually do everything but scream out, jump up and down, and smack you with a flag. Obviously, some people will slip through, but you in good conscience know that you tried as hard as you could to do what is right. Now, these are snakes, but I think the same is probably true for almost any species. Bad dog owners usually pop right out too, and there are consant and consistent, despite species, many red flags that people throw off.

Amanda Wright,
Posted At: 2/28/2014 8:56:37 PM  

SapphireTigress, I'm sorry that my comment upset you as it appears it did and I'm glad to hear that you are honest when it comes to whether or not you are going to adopt an animal as a pet or as prey. What I read was I got black listed from adopting a small dog because some idiot thinks that I'm going to feed a small dog to a ball python. To be completely honest I feel that you took that comment as a personal attack on you which is not how it was meant. I do agree with you that people who buy animals of any kind whether it be small or large with the intent to do something other than what they relayed is an ass. 

Blah there are reasons I say you don't really know and those things I can't talk about. I do strike up conversations with people, people do slip through. Do I think those particular restrictive breeders/rescues/whatever else are a little crazy? Of course. Like you said, they beg and plead for foster homes and people to adopt but won't adopt to reptile homes. AND are dumb enough not to take into consideration a ball python cannot eat a small dog of any breed. Were you right to get blacklisted, of course not and all of us here know that.

Amanda Wright,
Posted At: 2/28/2014 8:59:41 PM  

At this point I don't even know if that made sense....

George H. Wessel VII,
Posted At: 2/28/2014 9:15:15 PM  

Is all this back/forth over people who own snakes AND rats? For mucklucks sake people............

Niki ,
Posted At: 3/1/2014 12:29:45 AM  

George, they are mostly fussing about people who get their panties in a knot over people owning pet rodents & reptiles They aren't getting their own panties in a knot.

George H. Wessel VII,
Posted At: 3/1/2014 11:18:37 AM  

This is why I don't wear panties.

The Shammernator ,
Posted At: 3/1/2014 11:21:33 AM  
So has anyone ever actually tied heir panties in a knot? And then worn them? Does it really make you that mad?

Niki ,
Posted At: 3/1/2014 1:41:59 PM  

I'm pretty sure you could try a G-string in a knot. Can't imagine it would feel good.

Sonja K. ,
Posted At: 3/1/2014 1:45:26 PM  

Is the "G" in G-String short for "George"?

George H. Wessel VII,
Posted At: 3/1/2014 2:00:38 PM  

Niki ,
Posted At: 3/1/2014 3:20:26 PM  

Nice to see George comes with extra toys!

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