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Petco lawsuit: 10 y/o dies from rat-bite fever 2 weeks after rat bought at Petco

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A Petco lawsuit has been filed by the family of 10-year-old Aidan Pankey who died from rat-bite fever (RBF) just two weeks after having bought a pet rat from Petco. “The Pankey family is filing a lawsuit against Petco claiming various causes of action for strict liability and negligence,” reports San Diego’s 10News on Feb. 24, 2014.

Aidan Pankey loved his family, his friends, and his female pet rat which he had named Oreo. "He'd pop her on his shoulder and that little rat would hang on," says Aidan's grandmother about the boy’s relationship with his pet rat. Of course, the 10-year-old boy was looking forward to having rat babies, so his grandmother took him to the Petco store in Carmel Mountain. Aidan excitedly picked out a male companion for Oreo, called him Alex -- and two weeks later he was dead. “Aidan became sick on a Monday, two weeks after the family bought Alex, and died the next day.”

The Petco lawsuit filed by Aidan’s parents claims that while Petco’s release forms -- including Petco's care sheet for rats and Petco's infectious diseases care sheet – mentioned potentially infectious diseases that can be transmitted from rats, the forms did not state that rat-bite fever can be fatal. Aidan’s family did not find out the cause of his death until months later. Aidan’s grandmother told 10News that “the medical examiner sent the male rat to the CDC and it came back positive for Rat-bite fever.”

When Aidan got sick and his parents took him to the doctor, his symptoms indicated that he had the flu. According to the CDC’s information about rat-bite fever (RBF), the disease can develop from bites or scratches from infected rodents (such as rats, mice, and gerbils), handling rodents with the disease (even without a bite or scratch), or consuming food or drink contaminated with the bacteria. There are two different types of RBF, and the symptoms depend on whether it is streptobacillary RBF or spirillary RBF.

Symptoms and signs of streptobacillary RBF include fever, vomiting, headache, muscle pain, joint pain, and a rash. Symptoms “usually occur 3-10 days after exposure to an infected rodent, but can be delayed as long as three weeks.”

Symptoms and signs of spirillary RBF (also known as sodoku) can include recurring fever, development of an ulcer at the bite wound, swelling near the wound, swollen lymph nodes, and a rash that shows after the wound has already begun to heal. The symptoms usually occur 7-21 days after exposure to an infected rodent.

In response to the Petco lawsuit, Petco officials provided the following statement to San Diego’s 10News team:

"At Petco, we follow what we believe are the industry’s strongest standards for companion animal health and welfare, and we require our vendors to meet the same standards for animal care and well-being. We require our live animal suppliers to meet or exceed USDA requirements for the care and treatment of animals, as well as follow strict requirements for housing, feeding, breeding, shipping and caring for sick or injured animals. We leave specific testing protocols to be determined by our vendors unless we identify a reason for concern."

"We’re saddened by the Pankey family’s tragic loss and are very interested in speaking directly with the family to better understand their claims."

The Petco lawsuit filed by the 10-year-old boy’s family mentions “strict liability and negligence.” Wendy Patrick, who is a business ethics lecturer at San Diego State University and an attorney, told 10News that waivers filled out by pet buyers do not always protect companies. "Release forms are tricky because when you sign a release form it's telling you about a lot of the risks, but in a lot of cases, it's not telling you about all of the risks. One of the things that these cases bring up is did the manufacturer do enough, did the seller do enough?" Petco sells rats “between $6 and $11.” Petco’s supplier is Barney's Pets, a large animal wholesaler in Chino, Calif. To test a rat for rat-bite fever would cost around $40 per rat.

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