What is 'rat bite fever'?
Rat-bite fever is a rare infection caused by the Streptobacillus moniliformis bacterium which is carried in rat saliva. It is rarely diagnosed in England & Wales - with around one or two cases per year.
Human infection is usually through the following ways:
- from a rat bite/scratch
- handling infected rats
- ingestion of milk or water contaminated with the organism (via rat urine)
Person-to-person transmission does not occur.
Rat-bite fever usually develops within 7 days of the bite
- It begins abruptly with fever and chills
- Followed by severe swelling and joint pain, headache and nausea
- Many patients develop a rash, most often on the extremities
- About half of all patients develop a non-suppurative arthritis
- a minority of cases have a form of non-bacteraemic disease with septic arthritis
The infection can be successfully treated with antibiotics; penicillin is the treatment of choice.
What to do if you think you're infected
The advice if you are bitten by a rat and think you are showing symptoms is to go to your local GP or hospital. The infection is only dangerous if left untreated and after a course of antibiotics the illness has no long term effects.