If you have been bitten or scratched by a rat, you must immediately clean the wound with an antiseptic solution. This is to prevent the wound from getting infected. This HealthHearty write-up lists out the common symptoms of a rat bite, along with the treatment options.
Rat bites might not always be severe, which is why medical help is not always sought. Problems arise when one comes in direct contact with an infected rodent. If one is bitten or scratched by an infected rat, one could develop rat-bite fever. Over 200 cases of rat-bite fever have been reported in the United States, but this number might not be accurate, taking into account the cases that might have gone unreported.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rat-bite fever occurs due to contact with infected rodents, or the consumption of contaminated food/water. In the absence of treatment, this disease has a mortality rate of about 10%. It must be noted that following a few simple measures can considerably lower the risk of an infection. Though the incidence of rat-bite fever is quite low, and even rabies is rarely caused by rats, one should follow certain preventive measures to avoid rat bites. If one still gets bitten by a rat, steps should be taken to speed up the process of healing and prevent an infection. In severe cases, when the wound is too deep, it might require stitches.
Pain, bleeding, and redness are the main symptoms of rat bites. It is advisable to stop the bleeding. If the wound is cleaned and disinfected immediately, and an antibacterial cream is applied, there’s a slim chance of the wound getting infected. However, one must watch the wound till it heals completely. Medical assistance must be immediately sought on observing the following signs:
◈ Formation of pus
The aforementioned signs are indicative of an infection.
◈ Since the causal bacterium enters the body through a bite or scratch, it is advisable to remove the saliva at the earliest. So, place the affected part of the body under running water.
◈ Rat bites could sometimes be deep, which is why it is essential to stop the bleeding. If the wound is very deep, then you will have to place a gauze on the wound and hold it firmly till the bleeding stops.
◈ It’s advisable to clean the wound with an antibacterial soap for at least 15 minutes. You can even disinfect the wound by pouring hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol on it.
◈ After thoroughly washing the wound, dry it with a clean cloth. Apply an antibiotic ointment or a cream on the wound.
◈ The wound should then be covered with a dry, sterile gauze.
All the aforementioned steps can certainly help in lowering the risk of an infection. It must be noted that these steps must be immediately followed after being bitten or scratched by a rat. It is advisable to consult a doctor if you have been bitten by a wild rat, and the bleeding has not stopped even after 15 minutes.
◈ Swelling around the wound
◈ Joint pain
◈ Development of a skin rash 2-4 days after the onset of fever
If one has been diagnosed with rat-bite fever, penicillin is often the drug of choice. The treatment involves intravenous administration of penicillin for 5 to 7 days, followed by administration of oral penicillin for 7 days. In case of individuals who are allergic to penicillin, tetracycline or streptomycin might be prescribed. Sometimes, the use of other antibiotics such as erythromycin, chloramphenicol, clindamycin, or cephalosporins might be recommended. In the absence of treatment, rat-bite fever could put one at a risk of developing infections involving the heart, brain, or lungs. It could also lead to abscesses in the internal organs. So, rat bites should be cleaned and disinfected at the earliest.
Though most people would instinctively try to avoid contact with rodents, there are many who keep rats as pets. Domesticated rats or lab rats are very unlikely to bite, unless they are stressed or feel threatened. So, handle your pet properly. Here are a few preventive measures that you could follow:
◈ Take utmost care while handling your pet rat. Don’t hold it by its tail.
◈ Wash your hands thoroughly before handling your pet. Your pet could bite, if your fingers smell of food.
◈ The best way to avoid wild rats from coming into your home is to keep it clean. Make sure that you don’t leave food outside.
◈ If you have to handle rats as a part of your work, make sure that you receive a tetanus shot before you start handling them.
◈ Make sure that you wear protective gloves while handling them.
◈ Do wash your hands after handling rats, and don’t touch your mouth with your hands right after handling rats.
On a concluding note, rat bites can be avoided. People who handle lab rats or work at a pet store, those who have pet rats, or those who live in rat-infested places are more likely to be bitten by rats. Wild rats are mostly found around alleys, garbage dumps, sewers, or dwellings in areas that are not clean. So, stay away from these areas. Rats are likely to bite out of fear, as a defense mechanism. So, if you come across a wild rat, clap or stomp your feet to scare it off. Don’t approach the rat. If you have a pet rat, feed it well, and handle it with care.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.