Rat Bite Fever (RBF)

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Rat Bite Fever (RBF) & Exposure Risks

In early 2014, the family of a San Diego County boy who died from rat-bite fever, believed to have been contracted from his pet rat the previous year, filed a lawsuit against the company that sold the rat. News of the 10 year old child's death and subsequent lawsuit made national headlines.

Rat-bite fever (RBF) is an infectious disease that can be caused by two different types of bacteria. Streptobacillary RBF is caused by Streptobacillus moniliformis in North America while Spirillary RBF is caused by Spirillum minus and occurs mostly in Asia.

Both types of bacteria are part of the normal respiratory flora of rodents. Either organism may be transmitted to humans through bites or scratches. Infection can also result from handling an infected rodent (even with no reported bite or scratch), or ingestion of a contaminated food or drink. Although rats are considered the natural reservoir of RBF, the bacteria that cause the condition have also been found in other rodent species, such as mice and gerbils.

If not treated, RBF can be a serious or even fatal disease.

People who may be at increased risk of contracting RBF include those who:
• Live in rat-infested buildings
• Have pet rats in their home
• Work with rats in laboratories or pet stores

People can protect themselves from RBF by:
• Avoiding contact with rodents or places where rodents may be present
• Avoiding drinking or eating foods that may have come in contact with rodents

People who handle rats or clean their cages should:
• Wear protective gloves
• Practice regular hand washing
• Avoid touching their mouth with their hands

These are just a few things to know about RBF and exposure risks.