Report highlights risk of rat-bite fever

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A new report highlights the risk of rat-bite fever among owners of pet rats.

Rat on its hind lingsThe report appeared in the Dec. 19, 2014, edition of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In August 2013, the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency was notified of a fatal case of rat-bite fever in a 10-year-old boy who owned pet rats. His physician had diagnosed viral gastroenteritis.

Rat-bite fever is caused principally by Streptobacillus moniliformis. Tissues collected postmortem from the patient were positive for S moniliformis. During the 10 days before his death, the patient had obtained his second pet rat; S moniliformis was detected in tissue from the rat. The autopsy report noted that the patient had been scratched by his pet rats.

The authors of the report identified 17 additional cases of rat-bite fever in San Diego County from 2000-2013. The median patient age was 10 years, and all but one of the infections were pet-associated. None of these cases was fatal.