The family of a child who died of an infection possibly contracted from a rat bite has filed a lawsuit against the pet store that sold them the rat. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death to be a bacterial infection sometimes known as “rat-bite fever.” The lawsuit alleges general negligence, claiming that the pet store, part of the national chain Petco, failed to warn of the dangers associated with owning a rat as a pet. The plaintiffs are seeking both compensatory and punitive damages.
The ten year-old boy, who lived in San Diego, California, reportedly purchased the rat from a Petco store with his grandmother on May 27, 2013. He began experiencing severe pain at around midnight on June 11, including a fever and stomach pain. Paramedics took him to the hospital, but he died about an hour later. After conducting an autopsy, the medical examiner determined that he died of streptobacillus monliformis infection, or rat-bite fever.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people can contract this infection from infected rodents via a bite or scratch, or by ingesting food or water contaminated with the bacteria. Common symptoms include fever, chills, and joint pain or stiffness. The infection can be serious and even fatal, with a mortality rate of ten percent, if left untreated. A significant risk of delayed diagnosis exists because the initial symptoms are often nonspecific and the bacterium itself is reportedly difficult to culture. As rats become more popular as pets, some clinicians have expressed concern about increased risk of exposure.