At Risk for Rat Bite Fever?

Image of a woman kissing a pet rat.

Rats have made numerous appearances on the screen and the page as you've watched theater movies with your children, read popular children's books or relaxed while checking out family films with your home's technology system.

Movies have made the rodents popular in the world of children. Popular children's books and stories have increased interest about the rodents. Their new popularity has increased their presence in the lives - and homes - of children. The Harry Potter movies and Disney's Ratatouille are examples.

The focus in movies, videos and stories is about fun, interest and delight in these small creatures. They do not tell about the risks of rats in the lives of children. Those risks could put your child in harm's way or cause injury.

Rat bite fever (RBF) is a risk. RBF is an infection that a person can receive from a rat's kiss or small scratch. There is often no malice involved in RBF, just fun playtime and gentle holding of the pet. Even healthy rats can carry the bacteria that causes the infection. The infection spreads through direct contact with the rat's mucous membranes.

The infection is a full body infection and doctors consider it a systemic infection because it does not remain in only the area of the kiss, scratch, scrape or bite. The infection needs to be treated and without treatment can be life threatening.

"Diagnosing the disease remains very difficult," says Montreal pediatrician Karine Khatchadourian in The Rise of the Rats: A Growing Paediatric Issue. "It can easily be confused with various viral or bacterial infections such as meningococcemia, Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever."

Dr. Khatchadourian advised that children treated all had a wide range of symptoms such as high fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, severe headaches, diarrhea, stiffness and pain in the neck, wrists, hips, knees, as well as hemorrhagic pustules on the hands and feet. After diagnosis was effectively made the children were cured with a simple penicillin treatment.

When you think you want to indulge your family and incorporate a rat into your household as a new pet remember to talk with your veterinarian for guidance. Your veterinarian will be able to provide pros and cons of this rodent as a family pet. Your vet can also help you talk with your pediatrician about the benefits and risks a rat could present to children living in or visiting your home.

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