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Petco sued after 10-year old boy dies from rat bite

10-year old Aidan Pankey and pet.
Pankey Family via AP

The Pankey family of San Diego has filed a negligence suit against Petco for not properly testing a pet rat for disease before it was sold to their 10-year old son, Aidan’s grandmother. The boy died two weeks later from streptobacillus moniliformis, a bacteral infection, more commonly known as rat bite fever after being bitten by the animal he had named “Alex.”

According to the lawsuit filed Monday by attorney John Gomez “the rat appeared safe, and the boy took the it home May 27, 2013. However, he woke up 2 weeks later during night of June 11 with severe stomach pain and a fever. He was pale, lethargic and could barely walk, and 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," added Gomez.

He also explained that the reason the lawsuit was not filed until now was because they were waiting for lab results from the CDC, which tested the rat to confirm it was infected.

“The suit contends that “Petco should have known about the rodent's health and did not adequately test for the disease." It also says that "negligence led to the boy's death, which has caused his parents, Andrew Pankey and Vanessa Sauer, emotional and economic hardship, and that the retailer did not post adequate warnings about the potential risks, especially for children.”

In the meantime the store issued the following statement expressing its condolences:

"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."

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

According to government health officials, people can contract rat bite fever a couple of two ways; either by being bitten or scratched by infected rodents (including rats, mice and gerbils), or even handing them and cleaning up their urine and feces, as well as consuming food or drink contaminated with the bacteria. In the latter case the disease is then called Haverhill Fever. It is not spread from person to person.

While antibiotics, such as penicillin, are highly effective at treating rat-bite fever, if not treated promptly it can prove fatal. Those at greatest risk are people who live and work with rats, such as laboratory personnel, pet shop employees or those living in rat-infested areas. To prevent infection, the CDC recommends that people should wear gloves when handling the rodents and “avoid touching their mouths with their hands until washing thoroughly.”

To learn more about rat bite fever readers can contact the CDC at 1600 Clifton Rd. Atlanta, GA 30333, or call 800 232-4636).