Rat-bite Fever or RBF is a febrile illness that is caused by two types of bacteria -- "Streptobacillus moniliformis" and "Spirillum minus". Although this disease is rare and only a number of people have suffered from this by far, it is still always mentioned in Rat campaigns primarily because of its fatality once it hits a victim.
RBF is not only caused by rats, it can also be caused by other rodents like squirrels and mice. In fact, other domesticated animals like dogs and cats can also cause RBF. In some cases, even those who do not exhibit any signs of being bitten or scratched by any of these animals still because sick with RBF. There are cases too when the disease lead to an epidemic illness called Haverhill fever, which can make an entire population sick because of food and water ingestion.
Between the two bacteria mentioned in the beginning of this article, the "Streptobacillus moniformis" bacteria is pointed to be the real major culprit, especially in the outbreak that happened in Europe sometime ago. Nonetheless, the other bacteria, "Spiralled minus" caused some of the attacks in Japan and in some other parts of Asia. For some weird coincidence, Japanese also call this disease "Sudoku" which is also the name of a famous numbers game that originated in Japan.
However, since the occurrences in Japan and in some portions of Asia are relative insignificant relative to that in Europe and other western countries, this article is more focused on "Streptobacillus moniliformis". This bacteria is actually present in the nasopharynx of at least 50% of all the rats in the wild (and in laboratories, too). Some rats become susceptible to infections caused by the same bacteria and would develop otitis media, or worse, to epizootic infection, the same infection that has killed many koalas in the wild.
The Rat Bite
The bacteria that caused the infection will not be active within 10 days (on average). This means that after being bitten, the victim may not feel or experience anything unusual within the 10-day incubation period. This period can even last for up to 22 days, making the victim assume that he/she is not at all infected. However, once the bacteria is ready to attack, the victim will automatically experience sudden temperature rise -- high fever, vomiting, headache and nausea. Within 2-4 days, the victim will experience severe skin rashes most especially on the palms and on the feet. After these areas, the elbows, knees, hips and shoulders would start to rash too. These symptoms can last up to 14 days. Although some people may not experience anything else apart from these symptoms, some would suffer from increase blood pressure due to the irritation caused by the rashes.
The bacteria that cause this illness is very susceptible to penicillin. In some uncomplicated situations, the bacteria can even be killed using ordinary amoxicillin. However, it should be noted that the intake of antibiotics should not be done without a prescription from a physician. The physician might even recommend other antibiotics like ceftriaxone, clindamycin, streptomycin, chloramphenicol and clindamycin. In most cases, even the most severe attack can be treated in four weeks using penicillin.
Of course, the most obvious thing to do is to keep rats away from your home. As much as possible, routinely check your house for any entry points which these rodents can use. You also need to store your foodstuff somewhere it is safe from any interaction with these rodents. In the event that your house has already been infested by rats, the best thing to do is to contact a rat exterminator.
UPDATE: I've recently written a more comprehensive post on this topic entitled "Diseases Brought By Rats", so go check it out ;-)
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