Rat Bite: Fever and Treatment

Rat bite teeth close-up
daniiD / Shutterstock.com

Wild rats are worldwide known pests that cause numerous troubles to homeowners and properties. Though there are many species, the most common in Australia are the brown and the black rat. Generally, rats are also famously blamed for spreading dangerous diseases around the globe.

One reason for this is that those rodents can be very aggressive, especially nesting females, and they can often attack humans, leaving scratches and bites behind. An unpleasant consequence of such an attack could be rat bite fever caused by bacteria found in rat saliva. The symptoms can vary from mild to more serious and if not treated, the outcome can be fatal.

Do rats bite and when?

Normally, wild rats prefer to avoid people and hide in quieter parts of the house. Thus, rat bites occur in rare cases. However, when they feel cornered and threatened, they would lunge at a person to defend themselves.

While doing so, rats usually scratch or bite. Female rats that are nesting can easily feel threatened and in need to defend their pups. This makes them dangerous. As rats have large teeth, bites can be painful and cause bleeding. Bites can widely differ from shallow to deep, as in some cases there could be a single puncture wound, while in others - two or more.

Wild rodents can carry many serious diseases. One such disease is leptospirosis, though humans diagnosed with it are relatively rare in Australia (mostly NSW and Queensland).

Another famous one is Hantavirus, for which there haven’t been confirmed human cases in the country for now. However, some bites can cause tetanus infections and, occasionally, rat bite fever.

While those diseases can pose a danger to humans, some of them can also be hazardous for pets that also live in the house. Cats and dogs can also become victims of a rat’s sharp teeth and its defending mechanism to bite. However you look at it, rat bites can be dangerous. That is why you need to protect yourself and your family, and you can effectively do it by knowing what are the symptoms of a rat bite and what treatment you will need.

Learn all about: Diseases Caused by Rats

What happens if a rat bites you?

Rat bites, even from healthy rodents, can be unpleasant and painful. As already mentioned, rat bites are usually followed by bleeding, pain, redness and even swelling around the area. If the wound gets infected some pus might also appear.
Rat bites can bring various consequences and symptoms can differ from mild to more serious and even highly dangerous ones if a disease is transmitted. Below you can find all possible outcomes of a rat bite with the accompanying symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of a rat bite:

  • Mild reaction - pain, redness, swelling.
  • Infection and rat bite fever - fever and chills, joint pain, warm to touch skin area, throbbing pain, pus-weeping wound, vomiting, skin rash.
  • Leptospirosis (in very rare cases) - High fever, headache, muscle aches, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea, red eyes, rash, jaundice (yellow eyes and skin).

Can you get rabies from a rat bite?

Rabies is a disease of the nervous system that is transmitted through close contact with the saliva of an infected animal, therefore through a lick, bite or scratch. Though the disease is very dangerous and mostly fatal. Fortunately, it is not found in Australia and New Zealand.

Still, it is possible to be introduced to the country by the illegal importation of unvaccinated animals. The good news is that, contrary to popular belief, rabies is very rarely carried by rats in particular and their bites are unknown to transmit the disease to humans. However, you should always seek medical advice, especially if symptoms such as fever, fatigue, muscle pains, loss of appetite and vomiting appear.

How to treat a rat bite?

As we’ve mentioned before, rat bites can be nasty and painful. Most of the time, infection won’t develop. However, if there is one and it is left untreated, there can be life-threatening complications. That is why, when it comes to your health or that of your close ones, you can’t be too cautious.

Warning: If helping someone else that has been bitten take precautions and always wear protective gloves.

First aid steps for treating a rat bite:

  • Cleaning the area - Rinse the wound with warm water and soap immediately after the bite to stop the bleeding and to disinfect it. Don’t use any harsh products that would cause irritation later.
  • Applying ointment - If available, rub some antibiotic ointment on the skin.
  • Covering the wound - Using a clean and dry bandage, cover the bite to prevent any dirt from infecting the wound. Make sure to remove any rings if the bite is on your finger as sometimes the area swells.
  • Contacting your doctor - It is advisable to always seek medical help when suffering a rat bite. Call your doctor and check with them what you should do next. Your doctor might decide to prescribe you some antibiotics as a precaution to developing an infection or you might need stitches. If you haven’t gotten tetanus immunizations in recent years (more than 5 years), your doctor might decide that you need a shot after your close encounter with a rodent.
  • Watching out for warning signs - Even if the bite seems to be healing initially, you still need to be cautious for signs of fatigue, fever and vomiting that could develop later on.

What do you need to know about rat bite fever?

In rare cases, a person might get infected with rat bite fever (RBF). This can be caused by two different bacterias living in the rodent’s mouth known as Streptobacillus moniliformis and Spirillum minus.

Accordingly, the infections caused by them are called streptobacillary RBF and spirillary RBF (sodoku). Contrary to what the name suggests, other rodents such as mice, squirrels, guinea pigs also carry the bacteria.

Cats and dogs, which have been in contact with infected rodents, can also transmit it, but they generally don’t show symptoms. Pet rodents such as rats and mice can also be hazardous for your health as they are another potential transmitter of the bacteria.

Symptoms of streptobacillary rat bite fever

(Usually occur 3-10 days after the bite)

  • Headache
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Skin rash

Symptoms of spirillary rat bite fever

(Begin to show 1-3 weeks after the bite)

  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling of lymph nodes
  • Ulcer at the wound
  • Sore throat
  • Skin rash

The treatment of rat bite fever mostly happens through antibiotics. Depending on the bite/bites you have received, your doctor will decide whether you need to take the antibiotics for 7 to 10 days. It is important to complete the full course of the treatment, even if you feel better before the end of it. For more deep and severe bites, intravenous antibiotics will be required. Penicillin G is used in the majority of cases.

Ignoring symptoms and not seeking medical help can lead to severe consequences. Rat bite fever without treatment can cause complications such as focal abscesses. Moreover, infections of different internal organs can occur, such as:

  • Liver (hepatitis)
  • Kidneys (nephritis)
  • Lungs (pneumonia)
  • Brain (meningitis)
  • Hearth (endocarditis, myocarditis, pericarditis)

To sum things up...

  • Rat bites can be dangerous and lead to infections. That is why preventing rat infestations in the first place is the best way to avoid getting rat bites.
  • Remember that the animal is probably more frightened than you in its panic, a wild rat might attack you to defend itself or its babies. Thus, make sure to never approach rodents directly or try to catch them with your bare hands.
  • If suffering a rat bite, contact a medical professional immediately.
  • Consider contacting a professional company for dealing with the pests at your home. This is a quick, safe and hazard-free way to rid your home of the furry intruders without risking your safety.

Worried about rat bites? Contact us now for a professional rat infestation check and treatment!

Contact us

Disclaimer: As a commercial pest control service provider, we strive to provide you with valuable and as accurate information as possible regarding rat bites and their possible consequences. Still, we do not offer medical advice and we encourage you to seek medical attention for adequate check-up and treatment.