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How To Treat Rat Bites

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Updated May 19, 2014

Black rat (Rattus rattus) plague
John Downer/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Rats and other rodents have a nasty bite that can lead to a serious infection. Care should always be taken to contain any rodent after a bite to determine if the animal has an infection.

Difficulty: Average

Time Required: Respond quickly and watch victim for 10 days

Here's How:

  1. Stay Safe. Don't approach a wild rat -- generally, they're more afraid of you than you are from them. If the rat is a pet and its owner is around, instruct him or her to secure the rat. Rats will bite or scratch if frightened or handled, so leave them alone.

     

  2. If you are not the victim, practice universal precautions and wear personal protective equipment if available.

     

  3. Control any bleeding by following the appropriate steps. Avoid using a tourniquet unless there is severe bleeding that cannot be controlled any other way.

     

  4. Once the bleeding is controlled, clean the wound with soap and warm water. Clean inside the wound, being sure to rinse away all the soap, or it will cause irritation later.

     

  5. Cover the wound with a clean, dry dressing. You can put antibiotic ointment on the wound before covering. Rat bites often lead to infection. If the injury is on a finger, remove all rings from the injured finger before it swells. Watch for these signs of infection:
    • Redness
    • Swelling
    • Heat
    • Weeping pus

     

  6. Always consult your doctor. The wound may need stitches. Since they are often deep, rat bites are of particular concern for infection.

     

  7. Wounds on the face or hands should always be evaluated by a physician because of the likelihood of scarring and loss of function.

     

  8. Rat bites may be contaminated with Streptobacillus moniliformis or Spirillum minus. S. moniliformis is most common in the US. These infections may lead to Rat Bite Fever. Symptoms of Rat Bite Fever may appear as much as 10 days after the bite, and are likely to happen after the wound itself is already healed. Watch for:
    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Vomiting
    • Pain in the back and joints.
    2 to 4 days after the onset of fever, a rash may occur on the hands and feet, and one or more large joints may become swollen, red, and painful.

    If the victim exhibits any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

     

Tips:

  1. Remember, infection is the major concern with any animal bite and particularly from rats. Keep the area as clean as possible throughout healing.
  2. There is a common misconception that rats are a major source of rabies infection. In fact, we get rabies from bats more often than any other animals. Raccoons are the species most likely to have rabies, followed by bats, skunks and foxes. Rabies transmission from rodents to humans is extremely rare.

    Reference:

    "Rat-Bite Fever." 25 Oct 2005. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC. 12 May 2007.

    "Epidemiology." 18 Sep 2007. Rabies. CDC. 01 Apr 2009

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