Family sues Petco after boy dies from "rat-bite fever"

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Feb 26, 2014 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

SAN DIEGO – A San Diego family is
suing Petco after the death of their
10-year-old son from a bacterial infection they say he contracted from his pet

Attorney John Gomez told The
Associated Press on Tuesday that his firm filed the lawsuit Monday in San Diego
County seeking an unspecified amount for the suffering endured by the Pankey
family, whose son, Aidan, died June 12, 2013, hours after he was rushed to the
hospital with severe stomach pains.

The San Diego County Medical
Examiner’s Office ruled that the cause of death was streptobacillus
moniliformis infection, commonly known as rat-bite fever, after exposure to an
infected rat.

The retailer in a statement expressed
its condolences.

“We are deeply saddened by the
Pankey family’s tragic loss,” Petco
said in a statement. “The health and safety of people and pets is always a
top priority, and we take the family’s concerns very seriously.”

The boy’s grandmother purchased the
male rat, which Aidan named Alex, because her only grandson wanted a mate for
his female pet rat, Gomez said. The boy took the rat home May 27, 2013, and
woke up the night of June 11 in severe pain with a fever and stomach problems.
He was pale, lethargic and could barely walk, according to the lawsuit. He died
at 1:09 a.m. the next day.

“He was a bright, energetic,
friendly, happy kid who actually had a prior rat, who was a female, and he had
this idea in his young head of having his female rat get married,” Gomez

The lawsuit was not filed until now
because attorneys were awaiting the lab results from the federal Centers for
Disease Control, which tested the rat to confirm it was infected, Gomez said.
The agency could not immediately confirm the results Tuesday.

Gomez said the Pankey family was not
giving interviews, but they are devastated by the death of their only son and
want to raise awareness among parents.

“It’s a means to ensure this
doesn’t happen again,” Gomez said of the lawsuit. “Apparently there
was some breakdown in procedures. They want tighter controls.”

According to the lawsuit, the rat
appeared safe. But the lawsuit says Petco
should have known about the rodent’s health and did not adequately test for the
disease. It also says that negligence led to the boy’s death, which has caused
his parents, Andrew Pankey and Vanessa Sauer, emotional and economic hardship,
and that the retailer did not post adequate warnings about the potential risks,
especially for children.

Petco Animal Supplies Inc.
said it is “in the process of investigating these claims and will respond
appropriately when we have more information.”

According to the CDC, people can
contract rat-bite fever from bites or scratches from infected rodents, such as
rats, mice and gerbils, or even just by handling an animal with the disease
without a bite or scratch. It can also be contracted by consuming food or drink
contaminated with the bacteria. It is not spread from person to person.

Antibiotics, such as penicillin, are
highly effective at treating rat-bite fever, and it is rarely fatal, according
to the CDC.

The CDC says those at higher risk of
contracting the illness are people with pet rats or who work with rats in
laboratories or pet stores, or live in rat-infested buildings. The agency
recommends that people who handle rats or clean their cages wear protective
gloves, wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their mouths with their
hands after being in contact with rodents.

Petco also mentions
preventative measures for rat-bite fever in information it posts online and
provides in stores. The company warns that all rats are potential carriers and
that pregnant women, children under the age of 5 and people with weakened
immune systems should contact their doctor before buying a rat and “should
consider not having a rat as a pet.”

Only about 200 cases of rat-bite fever
had been documented in the United States as of 2004, according to the Center
for Food Security and Public Health at Iowa State University. Scientists
believe the disease may be underdiagnosed because it is hard to detect and
responds to commonly used antibiotics. But the number of cases, they say, may
be increasing, especially among children, with the growing popularity of rats
as pets.

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