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Infected rat: Child dies from his infected pet rat; family now suing Petco

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An infected rat, purchased by a San Diego family, has led to the death of a 10-year-old boy, who reportedly contracted a serious bacterial infection. The family says the infection was passed to the boy from the rat, and Petco is to blame.

According to The Associated Press on Tuesday, as carried by Yahoo! News, Aidan Pankey died in June of 2013, hours after being rushed to the hospital with complaints of severe stomach pains. John Gomez, attorney for the Pankey family, filed a lawsuit Monday against Petco, seeking damages for past and continued pain and emotional suffering.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office ruled that Aidan died from a streptobacillus moniliformis infection – commonly known as “rat-bite fever.”

Petco released a statement at the time, expressing their commiseration.

"We are deeply saddened by the Pankey family's tragic loss. The health and safety of people and pets is always a top priority, and we take the family's concerns very seriously."

The AP report picks up the story:

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, 2012, 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 said.

Aidan Pankey's family had never even heard of the disease that claimed his life; they say Petco never should have sold the rat to anyone.

The family waited to file suit against the pet store because they had to confirm the cause of death was directly attributable to the infected rat. Lab results from the federal Centers for Disease Control indicated the rat was carrying the infection, which can be passed via bites, scratches, or even handling an infected rodent.

The lawsuit alleged that Petco should have tested the rat and known about its health and not sold it to the family. They also said Petco failed to post adequate warnings of the potential health risks in owning a rat.

"Clearly there were not sufficient safety procedures in place at Petco when they sold this rat," Gomez said.

Aidan's death has devastated the family. His father, Andrew Pankey, says he can no longer eat or sleep, and was forced to take a leave of absence from work.

"He was my family," Andrew said. "I'm probably down 30 to 35 pounds since then. I don't even get hungry. I just go until I pass out."

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

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