Girl, 8, ‘At Death’s Door’ After Contracting Potentially Fatal Disease From Pet Rats

June 2, 2019 Updated: June 3, 2019

An eight-year-old girl from San Diego has been left hospitalized for a week after contracting “Rat Bite Fever” (RBF)—the same disease that led to a multi-billion dollar lawsuit against a pet store in the area just a few years prior.

Last week, Cali was “at death’s door,” her mother claims after she contracted the disease. She is now recovering at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.

RBF is an infectious disease that is typically spread through contact with rodents carrying the bacteria Streptobacillus moniliformis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If left untreated, it can be fatal and can have a mortality rate as high as 13 per cent in just days, reported the Mail Online.

The disease left Cali in so much pain that the family wouldn’t even touch her, her mother, Sabrina, told NBC News.

“She is 190 percent better. She is walking now. She is moving and using her arms. She’s eating and drinking,” she said. “It was really scary and really hard to watch.

“We couldn’t even touch her because she hurt so bad,” she added. “She wants to go home. She misses her house. We both do. She wants to see her other animals.”

Cali was playing with her two pet rats, Shell and Onyx, when she began to show signs of RBF on May 25.

“They are like little dogs. They play with you, they run with you,” Cali’s mother said of Shell and Onyx.

The family say they were never told about the risks of RBF when they brought the two rats into their home two years ago.

Although she wasn’t bitten by the rodents, Cali was suffering from a temperature of 104.6 degrees, her body was covered in a rash, and she was left unable to walk due to pain in her joints.

Other symptoms of the infectious disease can include vomiting, headache, and muscle pain. Although symptoms typically begin to show between three to 10 days after initial contact with the bacteria, they can be delayed by as much as three weeks, according to the CDC.

It is thought that the RBF bacteria could have been carried in either the rats’ urine or saliva, which then entered through a break in Cali’s skin, as she suffers from eczema on her fingers, a doctor told Fox5.

Dr. Jane Burns told the news outlet that she came to the diagnosis after Cali mentioned her pet rat.

“Actually as I was walking out of the room at one point, Cali said to me, ‘The thing I’m going to miss the most about being here is I’m going to miss my pet rat,'” Burns said. “And I turned around and that was an ‘aha!’ moment for me.”

A week on from being hospitalized, the eight-year-old is recovering well after being treated with antibiotics, and hopes to be home with her family soon.

Following the advice of Cali’s doctor, the family are now searching for a new loving forever home for Shell and Onyx.

“We didn’t want to do it. It’s not a fun thing to tell your kid you’ve got to get rid of your best friend,” Sabrina told 10News.

The family will not be giving the rats up to strangers out of fear they may be used to feed other animals, reported NBC News.

Pet Store Sued

Cali’s case of RBF is the hospital’s third in the last six years. The worst incident was in 2013 when a 10-year-old died of the disease.

Aidan Pankey, 10, was killed by the disease just under two weeks after his grandmother bought him a pet rat from Petco, reported NBC News.

The Pankey family sued the pet store company for $20 million, accusing Petco of failing to inform customers properly of the risks of owning a pet rat, but the company was found not negligent by a jury.

Cali’s doctor is urging families to make themselves fully aware of the risks of owning a pet rat are, as well as the symptoms of RBF before making the purchase.

“Parents need to know what the risks are. They need to know what the signs and symptoms are,” Burns told NBC.

Since 1839, just 200 cases of the disease have been recorded in the United States.