Rat bite fever is an acute, rare disease caused primarily by the bacterium Streptobacillus moniliformis. In Asia, another bacterium Spirillum minus causes spirillary rat bite fever. Rats can carry these bacteria but generally do not show any signs of illness. Disease has been reported in mice, birds, guinea pigs, and nonhuman primates. The majority of cases are due to the animal's bite. It can also be transmitted throughout food or water that is contaminated with rat feces or urine. The disease is most often seen in Asia, Europe, North America. The exact incidence is unknown and most cases go unreported.
Symptoms of Rat-bite fever include recurrent fever, rash, polyarthritis. The spirillary form causes relapsing fever, rash, and regional lymphadenitis. This condition is diagnosed by detecting the bacteria in skin, blood, joint fluid, or lymph nodes. Rat-bite fever is treated with antibiotics (penicillin or tetracyclines for 7-14 days). Alternative drugs include ampicillin, cefuroxime, and cefotaxime. Children should be advised to avoid contact with rats, particularly wild rats. People that handle rats or clean their cages should wear protective gloves, wash their hands after contact, and avoid hand-to mouth contact.