Rat bite fever is a zoonotic disease, meaning that it is transmitted from animals to people, which is most common in Japan although it can be seen in other regions as well. People contract rat bite fever when they are bitten by rats or mice which carry the bacteria responsible for this condition. Fever is the characteristic symptom of the disease. It is highly treatable and in most cases can be resolved very quickly with a course of antibiotic therapy.
Two different bacteria can cause rat bite fever. Spirillum minus and Streptobacillus moniliformis are both transmissible from rats or mice to people, but not from person to person, so someone who has this disease is not at risk of passing it on to someone else. This condition is also known as spirillary fever, streptobacillosis, streptobacillary fever, or sodoku, depending on the region of the world where it is diagnosed and which bacterium is responsible.
Onset of rat bite fever occurs between two and 10 days after exposure. The area around the bite may become inflamed and itchy, and the patient will experience muscle pain, joint pain, headache, nausea, chills, vomiting, and the characteristic fever. In some cases, the condition can resolve on its own without treatment although this can take months. In other cases, the patient may develop complications which could lead to death. For this reason, it is usually recommended to seek treatment for rat bite fever.
The patient may not remember having been bitten. If someone presents with these symptoms in an area where the disease is common and she or he has an open sore or irritated area on the body, these can be indicators that the patient may have rat bite fever. Diagnostic tests can be run to see if the bacteria are present in the body and antibiotics can be prescribed to treat the infection.
This rare disease is most common among people who handle rats and mice, such as lab workers and pet store employees. People can get the disease from pet rats and mice as well. People can reduce their risks of contracting rat bite fever by exercising caution when handling animals and when they are in areas of the world where this disease is common, it is advisable to only drink pasteurized or sterilized fluids because the disease can be passed through liquids and to avoid exposure to rat and mouse droppings.