What Is Rat Bite Fever?

Rat bite fever is a disease which can be caused by two types of bacteria. It is infectious and usually caught from rodents or by consuming food or water which has been contaminated with the bacteria. Streptobacillus moniliformis causes streptobacillary rat bite fever in north America. Spirilum minus causes spirillary rat bite fever or sodoku (not to be confused with sudoku!) in Asia and a few other places.

What Is Rat Bite Fever?

What Is Rat Bite Fever?

Without treatment rat bite fever can cause serious illness and even death. The commonest way that people are infected is by being bitten or scratched by an infected rat, mouse or gerbil. Sometimes, simply handling the animals can pass the disease on. It is not possible to catch rat bite fever from another person with the disease.

People who are at higher risk of rat bite fever are those who live in buildings where rats have also moved in. Otherwise, people who have rats as pets or work with rats in a pet store or lab may also have a higher risk of contracting the disease than other people.

Signs And Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of the two different types vary. For streptobacillary rat bite fever the symptoms are as follows.

  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Pain in muscles and joints
  • Rash

These symptoms will usually come on between three and 10 days after the person has been exposed to a rodent with the condition. The symptoms may be delayed for up to 3 weeks. This may be long after the initial wound has healed.

A couple of days after the onset of fever a red, bumpy or flat rash may be seen on the feet and hands. After this the joints may become red, painful or swollen

Symptoms of spirillary rat bite fever include:

  • Ulceration of the wound
  • Swelling
  • Lymph node enlargement
  • Rash
  • Recurrent fever

Symptoms usually appear 1 to 3 weeks after being exposed.

If you have any of the symptoms of rat bite fever after being exposed to a rodent you must visit your doctor immediately. Make sure you give them the full details. Antibiotics are very effective when it comes to a cure. Penicillin is usually used. Without treatment the disease may be fatal. This article is not a substitute for medical advice.

Dr Toby Bateson for HammerTechnologiesLtd.com